Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – No Regrets

August 18, 2010

President Barack Obama’s a pretty smart guy.

OBAMA/Coatless, the sleeves of his white shirt rolled up, microphone in hand, bottled water at the ready, he fielded questions for an hour from ordinary folk perched on picnic tables and settled into Adirondack chairs in the leafy backyard of Ohio natives Rhonda and Joe Weithman in Columbus.

Nine asked about pocketbook issues — pension plans, jobs, Social Security, the cost of healthcare and childcare. Obama sprinkled his predictable answers with personal touches like how his and wife Michelle’s student loans took 10 years to pay off and were mostly higher than their mortgage, and how the fine print in credit card statements could flummox any of us, including “a pretty smart guy” like him.

The 10th question was shouted from left field. As Obama made his way out of the Weithmans’ garden, a reporter wanted to know if he regretted inserting himself into the emotionally charged debate over whether a Muslim cultural center and mosque is built near Ground Zero in New York City.

Obama, a former constitutional law professor, spoke at length on Friday night about religious freedoms and the legal right of Muslims to build it, setting off a political firestorm and requiring a “refinement” by lunchtime on Saturday when he said he was not commenting on the wisdom of such a move.

“The answer is, no regrets,” he said today and quickly moved on.

 Five words. Pretty smart.

 Here are our top stories from today…

Obama: U.S. must tackle deficit without denting recovery

President Barack Obama said the United States must work out how to control its long-term deficit without hurting an economic recovery, which remains hobbled by a battered housing market. Obama acknowledged the deficit is worrying Americans and said cutting it would raise the public’s confidence.

For the full story by Patricia Zengerle, click here.

For Obama’s remarks on the controversial Muslim community center, click here.

Home refinancing demand at highest in 15 months

Mortgage applications leaped last week as rock-bottom interest rates lifted demand for home refinancing to its highest level in 15 months, a development that could portend stronger economic growth. Home loan refinancing puts extra cash into consumers’ hands that can be used to pay off existing debt or funnel money into the economy through extra spending.

For more of this story by Julie Haviv, click here.

SEC charges New Jersey with securities fraud

The Securities and Exchange Commission said it charged New Jersey with securities fraud for failing to disclose to municipal bond investors that it was underfunding its pensions. New Jersey, the first state ever hit with securities fraud charges by the SEC, agreed to settle the case without admitting or denying the findings, the SEC said.

For more of this story, click here.

Analysis: Retail numbers show path slow to economic growth

Pinks and reds may be the big colors for the fall, but retail executives are seeing only gray skies ahead. Shoppers are still spending cautiously, several top retailers said in the past two weeks as they reported quarterly earnings, giving weight to the idea that economic recovery would remain weak beyond 2010. This reluctance to shop would also slow growth in retail earnings heading into the crucial holiday season and leave investors with few attractive options in retail stocks, analysts said.

For more of this story by Brad Dorfman, click here.

U.S. announces new joint exercise with South Korea

The U.S. military will conduct an anti-submarine warfare exercise with South Korea early next month, sending a message to the North that Washington is committed to defending its ally, the Pentagon said. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the joint exercise, which is likely to annoy regional power China, would be conducted off the western coast of the Korean Peninsula and was aimed at defending against “sub-surface” attacks, particularly following the sinking of one of the south’s warships in March.

For more of this story by Sue Pleming, click here.

What we are blogging…

Democrats try turning mosque debate against GOP

Democrats were stunned and somewhat speechless last August when Republicans accused them of proposing “death panels” as part of their healthcare reform initiative. This August, it’s the proposed construction of a Muslim cultural center and mosque near lower Manhattan’s “Ground Zero” that is dominating the end-of-summer doldrums.  Once again, Democrats are struggling to gain the upper hand in the debate.

To read Richard Cowan’s full blog, click here.

Tips from juror for Blago retrial 

Patrick Fitzgerald take note — when you retry Rod Blagojevich, keep it simple. That’s the advice of the foreman of the hung jury that was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on 23 counts in the corruption case against the ousted Illinois governor.

For more of Deborah Charles’ blog, click here.

From elsewhere…

One-fourth of renters will never buy a home

More than a quarter of Americans currently renting houses and apartments have no intention to ever buy a home, according to a survey. The survey, by real estate search site Trulia.com, found 27 percent of renters do not plan to ever buy a home. Although 72 percent still expect to buy eventually, that proportion is down from 77 percent six months ago.

For the full story, click here.

Harvard tops university list

Harvard retains the crown as top university for the eighth year in an annual ranking of the world’s universities which is dominated by the United States but shows China’s performance improving. The 2010 Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), published since 2003 by the Center for World-Class Universities of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, said the United States dominates the list with eight in the top 10 and 54 in the top 100.

For the full story, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Obama meets with local families in Ohio)

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