Washington Extra – Light bulb

January 21, 2011

There is something oddly poetic about choosing a light bulb maker to head a team searching for economic ideas.

President Barack Obama named General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt to lead a new presidential advisory group called the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. OBAMA/

Obama said Immelt knows a thing or two about innovation given that he heads the company founded by Thomas Edison.

China was still clearly on the president’s mind two days after treating President Hu Jintao to a top-of-the-line White House welcome. In Schenectady today, Obama repeatedly mentioned the importance of selling American goods to China, and other countries.

“We want an economy that’s fueled by what we invent and what we build. We’re going back to Thomas Edison’s principles. We’re going to build stuff and invent stuff,” he said.

Immelt’s going to need all the figurative light bulbs he can bring to his advisory role, to figure out how to boost the economy. (For Obama, by November 2012 would be quite helpful).

Here are our top stories from Washington today…

Obama names GE’s Immelt to lead fresh push on jobs

President Obama, in another shift toward the political center, named General Electric Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt as a top outside economic adviser to help lift hiring. “I am so proud and pleased that Jeff has agreed to chair this panel, my council on jobs and competitiveness, because we think GE has something to teach businesses all across America,” Obama told workers at a GE plant.

For more of this story by Steve Holland, read here.

Revived Obama faces tough State of Union challenge

His poll numbers are on the rise, he has recaptured some of his old oratorical magic and a few pundits are even debating whether he’s becoming the new “comeback kid.” But the stakes will be high when President Obama tries to convince Americans he has a plan to tackle the economy, joblessness and deficits all at once. Obama’s State of the Union address will be a chance not only to set the tone for the second half of his term but also to reinforce his shift to the center since Democrats were routed in the November elections.

For more of this preview by Matt Spetalnick, read here.

For possible themes during the speech, click here.

Breakthrough after U.S. warns China on North Korea

The United States warned China it would redeploy forces in Asia if Beijing failed to rein in North Korea, an Obama administration official said, as Pyongyang bowed to Seoul’s demands for crisis talks. President Obama’s warning had persuaded China — the North’s main diplomatic and economic backer — to take a harder line toward Pyongyang, and opened the door to a resumption of inter-Korean talks, possibly next month, the official said.

For more of this story by Jeremy Laurence and Jeff Mason, read here.

SEC freezes assets in insider trading case

Securities regulators froze bank accounts containing more than $800,000 in illegal profits after a manager at Seattle Genetics gave his relative confidential information about drug trial results. The SEC complaint says Zizhong (James) Fan told his relative Zishen (Brandon) Fan about positive trial results in the development of a drug used to treat Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The SEC said Zishen spent hundreds of thousands of dollars buying speculative stock options and common stock. Its value rose 18 percent when the news about the drug trial was made public in late September.

For more of this story by Sarah N. Lynch, read here.

U.S. may tread lightly with Arabs over Tunisia unrest

Tunisia‘s political upheaval may give the United States fresh ammunition to argue that Arab autocrats should loosen up but it is unclear how forcefully Washington may make that case or whether anyone will heed it. U.S. officials said it was too early to say what lessons to draw from the toppling of Tunisia’s Zine-al Abidine Ben Ali, who fled on January 14 after street demonstrations ignited by a fruit and vegetable seller who set himself on fire to protest the police confiscation of his cart.

For more of this analysis by Arshad Mohammed, read here.

State bankruptcy bill imminent, Gingrich says

Legislation that would allow states to file for bankruptcy will likely be introduced in Congress within the next month, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told Reuters. “We’re faced with the danger that the states are going to try to show up and say to Washington: you have to give us money,” he said. “And I think we have to have an alternative that allows us to say no.”

For more of this story by Lisa Lambert, read here.

U.S. OKs ethanol boost for more cars

Regulators backed a request that would sharply boost the use of corn-based ethanol in more than half the nation’s cars, elevating the stakes in a contentious debate over the safety and cost of converting more corn into fuel. The EPA announcement boosting the ethanol blend rate was not a surprise, coming just months after it allowed so-called E15 in cars and trucks built in 2007 or later. But it is still likely to fire heated rhetoric over the increased use of ethanol at a time of rising food and fuel costs, though it may be years yet before the fuel clears the legal and logistical hurdles that effectively prevent its sale today.

For more of this story by Tom Doggett, read here.

U.S. wins again in Canada lumber dispute – USTR

A binding arbitration panel has ruled Canada has again breached its softwood lumber deal with the United States, this time with aid offered by provincial governments in Quebec and Ontario, the U.S. Trade Representative said. It marks the second recent win for the United States on the perennially thorny trade issue. It won a similar case at the London Court of International Arbitration in 2009, and last week launched a third case.

For more of this story by Roberta Rampton and Doug Palmer, read here.

FDA panel backs Bayer imaging drug

Advisers recommended approval of a Bayer AG imaging drug for use with magnetic resonance imaging scans of the central nervous system. Gadobutrol is a stronger version of products in a class called gadolinium-based contrast agents used with MRI scans. The drugs carry warnings about the risk of potentially fatal skin disorder. An FDA panel voted that gadobutrol did not need the strongest warning against use in kidney disease patients.

For more of this story, read here.

What we are blogging…

Obama approval ratings on the rise

Forget November’s election “shellacking,” at least for now. Things are looking up for President Obama. A flurry of new polls show Obama’s approval ratings climbing above 50 percent for the first time in months, fueled by growing public confidence in the economy and a positive reaction to his response to the Arizona shootings and the spurt of bipartisan accomplishment in Congress in December.

For John Whitesides’ full post, click here.

Would Congress swing its spending ax at the war in Afghanistan?

You’d think the war in Afghanistan would be the sacred cow of federal spending. The Republicans now in charge of the House have always embraced “Support Our Troops” and “Defeat Terrorism” as two of the most serious ”Thou Shalts” of their political playbook. But could the times be a-changing? Two influential conservative voices suggest they might be, as lawmakers search for the right balance between spending cuts and their own job preservation.

For David Morgan’s full post, click here.

From elsewhere…

Huge parking fines inspired parking watch app

Massive parking fines inspired one Australian man to create an iPhone app that lets users warn each other when parking officers are spotted lurking near their cars. “The idea was pretty much born out of frustration,” said Joseph Darling of “ParkPatrol,” the app developed by his Sydney-based firm to help users avoid tickets.

For more of this story, read here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Obama views generator at GE plant in Schenectady)

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