Poll: Less Faith in Obama’s Economic Abilities

Qualms about President Obama‘s stewardship of the economy are growing, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, as Americans become more pessimistic about when they predict the recession will end. At six months in office, Obama’s 55% approval rating puts him 10th among the 12 post-World War II presidents at this point in their tenures. When he took office, he ranked seventh. The findings forecast the rough patch that probably is ahead for Obama if unemployment continues to increase, as the administration predicts. Lower ratings could make it more difficult for him to prevail on his top legislative priority, national health care.

Obama continues to be highly regarded personally. Two-thirds see him as a strong and decisive leader and someone who understands the problems they face in their daily lives. A majority says his administration “is creating a new spirit of idealism.” However, there is a widening disconnect between Obama’s personal standing and support for the policies he advocates: By 49%-47%, those surveyed disapprove of how he is handling the economy, a turnaround from his 55%-42% approval in May. By 50%-44%, they disapprove of how he is handling health care policy. A 59% majority say his proposals call for too much government spending and 52% say they call for too much expansion of government power.

Obama May Have to Wait for Healthcare Passage

After more than a week of tirelessly pressuring Congress to move his top domestic priority, President Barack Obama may have to settle for a fallback strategy on health care overhaul. Instead of votes in the House and Senate by August, the best Democrats may be able to hope for this summer is action by the full House by the end of the month and some sort of agreement on a bipartisan plan in the Senate before lawmakers head home for vacation. Not only are Republicans honing their opposition, but some Democrats in both chambers are voicing doubts about moving such complex and costly legislation too quickly. Obama has scheduled a prime-time news conference Wednesday, expected to focus on health care. It’s turning into a major test of his leadership.

The nation’s governors, Democrats as well as Republicans, voiced deep concern Sunday about the shape of the health care plan emerging from Congress, fearing that Washington was about to hand them expensive new Medicaid obligations without money to pay for them. The role of the states in a restructured health care system dominated the summer meeting of the National Governors Association here this weekend — with bipartisan animosity voiced against the plan during a closed-door luncheon on Saturday and in a private meeting on Sunday with the health and human services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius.

Democrats want to ration healthcare for everyone in America — except those who break our immigration laws. Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee defeated an amendment that would have prevented illegal aliens from using the so-called “public health insurance option.” Every Democrat on the panel voted against the measure. Nevada GOP Rep. Dean Heller’s measure would have enforced income, eligibility and immigration verification screening on all Obamacare patients. Unlike most everything else stuffed into the House Democrats’ plan, the citizenship vetting process would not have required building a new bureaucracy. Heller proposed using existing state and federal databases created years ago to root out entitlement fraud.

Healthcare May Fund Abortions

Leading proponents of the nationalized health care plans, including President Obama and congressional proponents, have refused to rule out the possibility that federal tax money would be used to pay for abortions. Last week, one of the Senate committees considering health care legislation defeated amendments to exempt abortion from coverage. These proposed measures could lead to the largest abortion expansion since Roe v. Wade. Contact Arizona Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl, your U.S. Representative, and President Obama today! Politely let them know that you oppose a national healthcare plan that uses taxpayer dollars for abortion and end-of-life “options”.

Use this link to send an e-mail to all four officials or call Senator John McCain at 202-224-2235; Senator Jon Kyl at 202-224-4521; President Obama at 202-456-1111. Find the phone number for your U.S. Representative here. And pray, pray, pray.

2 out of 3 Americans Oppose Carbon Taxes

WorldNetDaily reports that almost half of the Americans who responded to a new poll say they have concerns about the impact of carbon dioxide on the climate, but two out of three say they have no interest whatsoever in opening their wallets to pay for any mitigation. Asked whether they “believe that man-produced carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases will induce catastrophic climate change” if unaddressed, 49.6 percent of the respondents said yes. Twenty-seven percent said no, and 23.4 percent were uncertain. The concern from Democrats and Republicans was reversed with Democrats saying 10-1 yes and Republicans saying 2-1 no. However, when asked if they were willing to “pay significantly higher energy bills in the hope of heading off what some scientists believe to be impending climate change,” 63.6 percent said no. That included Democrats by a margin of almost 3-1 and members of the GOP by 12-1.

Feds Shift Gears on Illegal Immigration

The Department of Homeland Security is changing the way it tackles illegal immigration, in many cases remaking or rescinding Bush administration policies. The changes put heavier emphasis on employers, including more investigations of hiring records and fines for violations. The arrests of hundreds of illegal workers at a time in raids at factories and meatpacking plants were a visible component of President George W. Bush‘s immigration enforcement strategy. Guidelines issued since then make it clear that raids targeting employees won’t be a priority. The agency still will arrest illegal immigrants as it conducts investigations, John Morton, assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in DHS.says, but “we are going to place our focus … first and foremost on the employer.”

Meanwhile, the number of Mexicans moving to the USA has dropped sharply since the middle of the decade, according to a new report by the Pew Hispanic Center. Figures from various sources, including the Census Bureau, show that 30% to 50% fewer Mexicans came here — legally or illegally — in 2008 compared with 2006. About 11.5 million people born in Mexico call the USA home. They account for one-third of all foreign-born residents and two-thirds of foreign-born Hispanics.

Flu Vaccine for Fall Won’t Protect against Swine Virus

The Food and Drug Administration approved a seasonal flu vaccine on Monday, in plenty of time to protect people against the three standard flu strains expected to spread this fall. The agency warned, though, that the seasonal vaccine will not guard against a fourth, potentially more dangerous, strain spreading worldwide. This virus, a novel H1N1 influenza widely known as swine flu, has caused more than 40,000 cases and 260 deaths in the USA and its territories. Its novelty is what makes it so dangerous. Most people, particularly those younger than 50, haven’t been exposed to the new virus or viruses like it, so they’re relatively defenseless against infection. The pandemic flu virus only compounds the already considerable threat posed by seasonal influenza, which results in about 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths every year.

Mine Ban at Grand Canyon

A move by the Obama administration on Monday to temporarily halt new mining claims on nearly 1 million acres surrounding the Grand Canyon will likely push the ongoing battle back into the political arena. Republicans, including Arizona’s two senators, have opposed efforts by environmentalists and Democrats to keep new uranium mines from opening near the Canyon. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called a timeout to new claims and ordered his agency to determine whether the stop should be extended to 20 years, the maximum time the agency can withdraw lands from mining under federal law. Meanwhile, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., will hold a hearing today on his proposal to permanently ban uranium mining on public lands north of the Canyon in an area known as the Arizona Strip. Salazar’s decision comes as the increasing price of uranium has spurred a sharp increase in new mining claims.

Spam Soars despite Billions Spent to Prevent It

TRACElabs issued this a mid-year report noting that spam volumes have spiked to the highest levels ever recorded. Spam volumes are now higher than the previous highest levels recorded in July 2008. Spam (unsolicited email) remains a viable global industry, despite billions spent by corporations on spam filters, not too mention high consumer distrust of spam email messages. “The clear message spammers are giving us is that they are unimpeded by the efforts of law enforcement and the security community,” says TRACElabs senior researcher Phil Hay.

Inspector General Critiques TARP

Americans always knew the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was going to be expensive. But the program’s special inspector general, Neil Barofsky, thinks the U.S. government has bitten off more than it bargained for: on July 20, his office released a report estimating the $700 billion effort to shore up the nation’s wobbly banking system could end up costing taxpayers as much as $23.7 trillion, due to estimates for programs offered by the FDIC, federal money for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and other institutions on top of $7.4 trillion in TARP and other Treasury aid. A spokesperson for the Treasury Department quickly called the numbers flawed, making this the latest in the back and forth between Barofsky’s oversight office — which currently has 35 ongoing criminal and civil investigations of suspected accounting, securities and mortgage fraud — and the Treasury Department over the handling of TARP disbursements.

As the watchdog of the government’s massive bailout of the financial sector, Neil Barofsky had a simple question: What had the nation’s banks done with all their bailout money? Can’t be answered, said the Treasury Department, because of the way banks move money internally. The department declined to put the question to the banks. And so, Barofsky started asking financial institutions himself, getting answers from more than 300 that had received federal bailout money and learning to what extent they had used the money to increase their lending, buy competitors or build their cash reserves. The banking survey, and the refusal of Treasury officials to conduct it themselves, were revealed as Barofsky issued a stinging report Monday that complained of a lack of transparency in the Obama administration’s management of the giant financial-services bailout program.

Calif. Budget Deal Doesn’t End IOUs

Three weeks after the state started handing out IOUs in place of hundreds of millions of dollars owed to contractors, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders from both parties have brokered a deal that may allow it to pay bills and begin to get its fiscal house in order. Details of the agreement reached Monday are still emerging, and already protests are being raised by some who say it relies too much on borrowing and others who say it cuts too much. However, the deal was thrown into doubt late Tuesday over a provision allowing the early release of 27,000 state prisoners. Republican leader Sam Blakeslee said the GOP would scuttle the deal if that stays in, according to The Sacramento Bee. The agreement avoids raising taxes, a goal of the governor since voters rejected tax-increase proposals in a May referendum, while reducing spending on education and welfare services. It also relies on accounting tricks and borrows billions from local governments, according to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. The board voted Tuesday to sue the state to block a provision in the deal in which the state takes millions of dollars in gas and property taxes and other funds that were supposed to go to cities and towns.

Ø      This deal of “accounting tricks” and robbing local governments is testament to the absurdity to which overspending and massive debt have taken us. This is not a solution but a postponement of the really hard choices and times that are coming.

Economic News

Prices of single-family homes rose on average a seasonally adjusted 0.9% in May from April but were down 5.6% from a year earlier and 10.7% below their April 2007 peak, the Federal Housing Finance Agency said Wednesday.

Nearly four in 10 small-business owners polled in the past few weeks said they are not able to get the financing they need to run their firms, according to a study Wednesday from the National Small Business Association. That’s up from a third in December 2008. A report from the Service Employees International Union, also out Wednesday, says SBA lending by major banks has significantly dried up.

Ø      I thought the massive bailout was supposed to loosen credit?

U.S. troop Death Exceed 5,000

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan reached two solemn milestones Monday: July has become the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and the combined death toll surpassed 5,000. Four Americans were killed by a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Robert Carr said. That brings the number of U.S. servicemembers killed so far this month to at least 30. The previous deadliest month was June 2008, when 28 died, the Pentagon said. In Iraq, where casualties have dwindled in recent months, at least six Americans have died so far in July. Deaths on both fronts pushed the total U.S. fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan to at least 5,002, according to the Pentagon. That number includes 4,333 military deaths in Iraq and 669 in Afghanistan.

Army to Increase Forces by 22K Soldiers

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has announced that the size of the U.S. Army is being increased by 22,000 to help meet deployment needs around the world. This is the second time since 2007 that the military has determined it does not have a large enough force. Gates had already increased the size of the Army and Marine Corps shortly after taking the Pentagon job. Gates noted that while progress in Iraq will lead to a reduction in the number of troops there, more troops are needed in Afghanistan because of the worsening violence in that conflict.

Afghan Violence Continues Unabated

Eight Taliban militants attacked three government buildings and a U.S. base in two eastern cities Tuesday in near-simultaneous attacks — a signature of major Taliban assaults. Eight insurgents and six Afghan security forces died. Using suicide bombings, gunfire and rockets, the militants attacked the governor’s compound, the intelligence department and the police department in the eastern city of Gardez. Tribal elders and government officials had just finished a meeting at the governor’s compound about security for the country’s Aug. 20 presidential election when gunfire broke out at the nearby intelligence department,. A rocket fired into the intelligence department killed three officers. A suicide bombing in front of a police station killed two police. A rocket was also fired at the governor’s house. A total of four attackers were shot and killed at the police station and the governor’s compound, including at least two bombers clothed in women’s burqas.

A Philippine official says 10 Filipino workers were among the civilians killed in a helicopter crash at NATO’s largest air base in Afghanistan. All 16 people aboard the Russian-owned civilian Mi-8 helicopter died in the crash Sunday at the base in Kandahar. The Philippines has banned its overseas workers from Afghanistan, but many still end up employed at military bases there.

A British fighter jet crashed inside NATO’s largest base in southern Afghanistan on Monday in the second major crash there in two days. The Royal Air Force GR4 Tornado crashed inside Kandahar Airfield. The crew’s two members ejected and were being treated for unspecified injuries at the base hospital.

Iran Supreme Leader Warns Opposition

Iran‘s supreme leader issued a tough warning Monday to the opposition to back down after a former president called for a referendum on the government’s legitimacy, a sign of the movement’s growing boldness in challenging the country’s clerical rulers. The exchanges between the opposition on one side and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his core of hard-line clerical supporters on the others appeared to be heating up, reflecting how the month-long conflict over Iran’s disputed presidential election is entering a new level — a struggle within the leadership itself. The opposition has been energized by a show of support last week from former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a key figure within the ruling clerical hierarchy.

Presidential hopefuls are not the only politicians running afoul of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei these days. Now the freshly re-elected official president — Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — has been ordered by Khamanei to dismiss the man he chose just last week to be his first vice president, the Associated Press reports. The first veep, Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, who also happens to be the father-in-law of Ahmadinejad’s son, earned the ire of hardliners because of pro-Israeli comments he made in 2008.

Wildfires

An Inyo National Forest wildfire that forced the evacuation of several vacation homes and nine campgrounds near Big Pine, California, is 85% contained as of Wednesday morning, having burned 3,268 acres or about five square miles..

Rugged terrain made it difficult for firefighters as they battled a California wildfire burning in a national forest near the Oregon border. The fire in the Klamath National Forest expanded to 4,168 acres, or nearly 7 square miles. The blaze is 60% contained as of Wednesday morning. Highway 97 is open again to traffic, but people using the roadway are being led by police escorts.

The Railbelt Complex fire in Alaska has consumed 251,230 acres, or over 40 square miles. Five other wildfires are also burning in Alaska, having consumed nearly 105,000 acres.

Weather

The South and Midwest have been experiencing record-low temperatures, turning summer topsy-turvy. Atlanta saw a record low of 61 degrees early Monday. Anniston, Ala., woke up Monday to a crisp 55 degrees. Crossville, Tenn., dipped to 52. Dubuque, Iowa, recorded 49 degrees. Early Monday morning, the temperature at Birmingham Airport was 59, breaking a record of 60 set in 1947. The cool temperatures could stay through the weekend.

Drought in Texas has led to an estimated $3.6 billion in crop and livestock losses, and without ample rains, the year’s final tally could top the state record set in 2006, Texas agriculture officials say. Crops and rangeland are scorched from lack of rainfall and record triple-digit temperatures throughout parts of Texas — the nation’s second-largest agriculture state behind California. Much of the central and southern parts of the state have been in the two most severe stages of drought for months.

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