Washington Extra – Food for thought

February 9, 2011

The U.S. government strongly supports democratic reforms in the Middle East. Just look at its comments on Egypt. But the American public doesn’t appear to be so gung-ho.

OBAMAA Reuters/Ipsos poll out today found that a solid majority, 58 percent, believe the United States should be cautious about backing democracy in the Middle East because elections could lead to anti-American Islamist governments.

The biggest opposition group in Egypt is the banned Muslim Brotherhood and President Barack Obama has acknowledged that the group’s ideology included anti-American strains.

More strains showing in U.S.-Egypt relations as the allies traded barbs. The White House talked about the “lack of steps” taken by the Egyptian government to meet protester concerns. The Egyptian foreign minister told PBS NewsHour that Vice President Joe Biden’s earlier advice was “not at all” helpful.

Other food for thought. Salmon was served at the White House lunch for Obama and House Republican leaders. Wonder if it will come to symbolize swimming upstream when it’s time for budget negotiations.

It turns out that the bank bombshell promised by WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange may end up more of a post-meal nap. Read the exclusive by Mark Hosenball.

Here are our top stories from Washington today…

Public cautious on Middle East democracy

A majority of Americans believe the United States should be cautious about backing democracy in the Middle East because elections could lead to anti-U.S. Islamist governments, a Reuters/Ipsos poll said. A solid majority, 58 percent, backed a cautious approach because democracy could result in the election of Islamist governments that do not back U.S. interests. About one-third, 32 percent, said the United States should always support democracy in the Middle East, regardless of the risks.

For more of this story by John Whitesides, read here.

See also results of Reuters/Ipsos poll on Obama’s job performance.


U.S. says Egypt failing to meet protest concerns

Egypt must do more to meet protesters’ demands for political change, the United States said on Wednesday in a sharp escalation of rhetoric with one of its most important allies in the Middle East. Washington is waiting for “real, concrete” moves to speed the transition, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said after Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit suggested the United States was eager to impose its will on Cairo. “What you see happening on the streets of Cairo is not all that surprising when you see the lack of steps that their government has taken to meet their concerns,” Gibbs said.


For more of this story by Andrew Quinn and Jeff Mason, read here.

Assange suggests bank documents are a snore

The bombshell that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has said could “take down a bank or two” may in fact be something of a dud. Assange has said privately he does not know if his cache of internal Bank of America data contains any big news or scandal, according to three people familiar with the WikiLeaks leader’s private discussions about the material. They said that Assange said it consists of e-mails from the hard-drive of a Bank of America executive’s computer and that the latest messages are dated sometime in 2006.

For more of this exclusive story by Mark Hosenball, read here.

Bernanke: U.S. job growth, inflation still too low

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested economic conditions are still too weak for the central bank to pull back on its vast monetary stimulus, despite a welcome drop in the jobless rate. The Fed chief also warned about the dangers of record budget deficits. But he indicated sharp spending cuts in the short term could cripple the recovery.

For more of this story by Pedro da Costa and Mark Felsenthal, read here.

Geithner: cooperation in Congress will aid economy

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner strongly pitched increased bipartisan cooperation among lawmakers as vital for building business and market confidence in the economy’s growth. He said Congress needs to pull together to build confidence. “The job of government is to create the conditions for businesses to expand and to thrive and what we need to do in Washington is make sure we’re creating a better environment for business to act with a little more confidence about the future,” he said.

For more of this story by Glenn Somerville, read here.

House Republicans push energy, science cuts

Scientific research, high-speed rail, environmental and other priorities of the Obama administration would face steep cuts under a new congressional Republican spending plan. More than 60 programs would be eliminated entirely, including birth control funding, the Americorps volunteer program, public broadcasting, the community-oriented policing program and a weatherization program for homes and office buildings. The proposal has virtually no chance of becoming law because President Obama and the Democrats who control the Senate are certain to oppose it.

For more of this story by Andy Sullivan, read here.


Corn stocks ratio to match lowest since Depression

The U.S. made a surprisingly deep 9 percent cut in its forecast for corn stockpiles, projecting the tightest supply-to-user ratio since the Great Depression as more feedgrain is used to make ethanol. Corn prices in Chicago jumped to their highest level since July 2008 following the Agriculture Department report, which threatened to rekindle heated debate about using crops for fuel as food prices soar and big importers scramble to build up stocks in order to head off civic unrest.

For more of this story by Charles Abbott, read here.

Falling rental vacancies seen stoking US core CPI

Growing demand for rental properties as the economy strengthens is set to lift underlying inflation gauges, but it will still be a while before the Federal Reserve starts tightening monetary policy. High rental vacancies have weighed on the core consumer price index, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, and economists now see this anchor slipping loose. In the fourth quarter of 2010, the rental vacancy rate fell to 9.4 percent — the lowest since the second quarter of 2007 — from 10.3 percent in the July-September period.

For more of this analysis by Lucia Mutikani, read here.


Big insurers ask Geithner for Dodd-Frank slowdown

Major insurance companies are asking regulators to put the brakes on a key part of last year’s financial reforms, according to a letter. The insurers want action deferred on a rule that could subject them to tighter oversight. The rule has to do with financial firms judged to be so large and interconnected that their stability is important to the overall economy.

For more of this story by Kevin Drawbaugh, read here.

Lawmakers pound public pensions, fear bailouts

A top Republican lawmaker swore off any bailout of state and city governments, turning up the heat on states to fix chronically underfunded pensions and persistent budget problems. “The era of the bailout is over,” said Representative Patrick McHenry, chairman of a House of Representatives subcommittee on bailout oversight. Altogether, states project budget deficits of at least $100 billion for the next fiscal year, which for most begins this summer.

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

Republicans push for Colombia, Panama trade deals

President Obama’s top trade official said he would try to finalize long-delayed trade pacts with Colombia and Panama soon, but Republicans pressed for concrete plans to pass the agreements. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told lawmakers Obama had directed him to immediately intensify talks with the two countries to resolve outstanding issues “as soon as possible this year” and present agreements to Congress for approval.

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

SEC gives credit ratings the cold shoulder

Securities regulators moved to scale back market reliance on credit rating agencies, after the financial crisis laid bare the industry’s shortcomings. The SEC voted to propose that several of its key documents for securities offerings no longer require ratings references that were designed to help investors gauge the quality of securities. Credit-raters have been blamed for helping fuel the 2007-2009 financial crisis by giving overly positive ratings to securities backed by toxic subprime mortgages.

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

US terror threat at highest since 9/11-Napolitano

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warned that the threat of terrorism against the United States was in some ways “at its most heightened state” since the September 11, 2001 attacks. In addition to the threats by al Qaeda, the militant group behind the attacks nearly a decade ago, Napolitano said the country faces new threats from those inspired by the group and those already inside the United States. “The threat continues to evolve and in some ways the threat today may be at its most heightened state since the attacks nearly 10 years ago,” Napolitano told the House Homeland Security Committee.

For more of this story by Jeremy Pelofsky, read here.

What we are blogging…


State Dept. figures out how to say “Twitter” in Arabic

It took a while, but the State Department is now tweeting in Arabic. With unprecedented political turmoil rocking Egypt and protesters turning to social media such as Twitter and Facebook, the mouthpiece of U.S. foreign policy wants in on the game. Its first message? #Egypt #Jan25 تعترف وزارة الخارجية الأمريكية بالدور التاريخي الذي يلعبه الإعلام الإجتماعي في العالم العربي ونرغب أن نكون جزءاً من محادثاتكم (Translation: “We want to be a part of your conversation!”)

For Andrew Quinn’s full post, click here.

Webb’s retirement could loosen Democratic grip on U.S. Senate

Things just got a lot harder for Democrats. First-term Senator James Webb announced on Wednesday he will not run for re-election in Virginia next year, making Republicans the early favorite to recapture the seat the Democrat narrowly won in 2006.

For John Whitesides’ full post, click here.


From elsewhere…


Fans sue NFL, Cowboys over Super Bowl ticket snafu

Angry football fans have sued the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys, saying they were denied seats to the Super Bowl despite having paid thousands of dollars for tickets. The lawsuit was filed after the league admitted to mistakes that left about 400 paying fans unable to watch Super Bowl XLV in person — or able to see the field only on TV screens — and other Cowboys’ season ticket-holders watching from temporary metal chairs with obstructed views.

For more of this story, read here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jason Reed (House Republican leaders after meeting Obama at the White House)

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