Maybe it’s the careful, consensus-oriented system that produces them, but China’s leaders in recent years have not exactly exuded personality. President Hu Jintao is famous for his stiff manner and scripted speaking style. Jiang Zemin was slightly more relaxed, and enjoyed showing off his English language skills and knowledge of U.S. history.
Washington on Tuesday will get its first close look at China’s next president, current Vice President Xi Jinping, who has a reputation for being more open and refreshingly direct than some of his predecessors. It may be too much to hope for a “Deng Xiaoping moment,” a 1979 turning point in Sino-American cultural relations when the diminutive Deng, China’s great modernizer, attended a rodeo in Simonton, Texas, donned a giant cowboy hat and wowed the crowd. Deng was then China’s vice premier.
It was a long slog to the government’s mortgage abuse settlement with top banks, one in which officials slept in their offices and worked round the clock. And yet, a consumer advocate looking out for those who lost homes to foreclosure can only muster an “it’s okay.”
You don’t need an expert to tell you how little of a dent the $25 billion deal makes in a mortgage morass that President Obama reminded us is one of the biggest drags on the economy. It took 16 months to get to a settlement that helps roughly 1 million borrowers, while 11 million Americans owe more money that what their homes are worth. People who lost their homes to foreclosures will get payments of $2,000. Home prices, meanwhile, are still 33 percent lower than 2006.
“Nobody ever thinks I can win anything,” Santorum told a gathering of pastors. “The gift of being underestimated is a great gift.”
As welcomes go, this might be one of the most colorful (and perplexing) in recent memory. One week before he is to help host Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden took a double jab at China’s economic growth prospects and its one-child policy.
“Because of that God-awful one-child policy they have, what happens now is in the next 20 years they’re going to have such an inverse proportion of the number of people working to the number of people retired that there is no way they can sustain that growth,” Biden said.
The Obama administration is known to be methodical when it comes to its messaging. But Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s declaration that the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan might end next year seems to have caught people here and overseas by surprise.
Today, everyone from Panetta to White House spokesman Jay Carney to NATO allies tried to tamp down notions that a major policy shift was underway. But many were still scratching their head about whether there is now a new U.S. timetable for winding down a war that is over a decade old.
President Obama went out to Falls Church, Virginia to tout his $5 billion to $10 billion plan to help homeowners refinance. The proposal, sketched out in last week’s State of the Union address, could provide relief to many locked into high rates by their homes’ sagging value. But it doesn’t look like it will overcome Republican opposition.
The day the Congressional Budget Office forecast that the United States is headed for its fourth straight year with a $1 trillion-plus budget deficit, President Obama touted the benefits of big government spending.
His venue? The Washington auto show. His tools? Shiny new American cars, preferably those from General Motors and Chrysler. Those were the two companies that received billions in a 2009 taxpayer funded bailout that has obviously paid off, both for the automakers and the Obama administration.
California prides itself on setting trends for the nation. This week, it may be the state that bucks the trend if it decides to abstain from a multi-state and federal settlement with the big banks on mortgage abuses.
States must say by the end of this week whether they are in or out of the deal and California is very much in doubt. Attorney General Kamala Harris, a rising star in the Democratic Party, is concerned the banks may get off too easily. Just last week, her people were calling the settlement “inadequate.”
Leon Panetta, famous here in Washington for being a “budget guy”, has a budget challenge at the Pentagon that few would relish. He probably doesn’t relish it either, but it could be the crowning achievement in a remarkable career if he pulls it off.
Today he fired the opening salvo in what is expected to be a long budget fight in Congress for the American military of the future – a much leaner one at that. He’s trying to wear both hats, that of the budget guy (and historic deficit hawk) and that of a custodian of a strong military.
Some great news for all you borrowers today from the Fed. Interest rates are likely to remain around zero until at least late 2014. That’s later than previously expected, and to put things in perspective, it’s nearly two years into the term of the president who will be elected in November.
What it tells us is that the economy is still very vulnerable. Ben Bernanke said as much today: “I don’t think we’re ready to declare that we’ve entered a new, stronger phase at this point.” He left the door wide open to further Fed stimulus via bond purchases.