Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Let’s talk

March 25, 2011

Members of Congress have been complaining all week (while out of town on a weeklong break) that they weren’t given enough information when President Barack Obama moved ahead with military action on Libya.

OBAMA-LATINAMERICA/What is the goal in Libya? How will the goal be achieved? Explain, explain, explain! they demanded (while Obama was on a Latin America trip).

So today, Obama held a conference call with leaders of Congress from both parties to consult on Libya, and he plans to address the public in the “very near future” (although not today), White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “We take the need to consult very seriously,” he said.

Congress returns next week and so there will be plenty more calls for more consultation.

No matter which party controls Congress or the White House, when the president makes a big decision, sometimes feelings get hurt on the Hill with lawmakers believing they did not have enough of a say (which can actually offer good cover for unpopular decisions).

Sometimes a trip to the White House for consultation can smooth ruffled feathers. We’re guessing it’s going to take more than a conference call this time.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

Libya campaign shows limits of U.S. military clout

When President Barack Obama launched the Libya campaign over the objections of top commanders, it was seen as a sign of how far his White House had drifted from the Pentagon just across the Potomac River. But Obama’s decision to intervene in Libya, where Muammar Gaddafi remains defiant after a week of coalition air strikes, more accurately underscores the limits of Pentagon influence in any White House, along with the mutual skepticism that runs deep between U.S. civilian and military leaders.

For more of this analysis by Missy Ryan and Caren Bohan, read here.

Obama briefs leaders of Congress on Libya

President Barack Obama updated members of Congress on the situation in Libya, the White House said, after complaints from both Republicans and his fellow Democrats that the administration failed to clearly communicate its plans for the conflict. Obama updated congressional leaders from both parties on the transition of military command and control to NATO and progress in the conflict so far, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

For more of this story by Patricia Zengerle, read here.

US develops ‘panic button’ for democracy activists

Some day soon, when pro-democracy campaigners have their cellphones confiscated by police, they’ll be able to hit the “panic button” — a special app that will both wipe out the phone’s address book and emit emergency alerts to other activists. The panic button is one of the new technologies the U.S. State Department is promoting to equip pro-democracy activists in countries ranging from the Middle East to China with the tools to fight back against repressive governments.

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

Gates first U.S. defense chief to visit Palestinians

Robert Gates became the first Defense Secretary to visit the West Bank, meeting Palestinian leaders keenly aware of every little nod to their hopes of achieving statehood. Children in Ramallah stared as the long motorcade of U.S. cars wound through the streets of the city north of Jerusalem.

For more of this story by Phil Stewart, read here.

U.S. bumps up GDP growth, seen slowing again in early 2011

The economy grew more quickly than previously thought in the fourth quarter, the government said, but signs of softer consumer and business spending may slow its momentum in early 2011. Another report showed consumers in March were their most downbeat in over a year as food and gasoline prices jumped. Gross domestic product rose at an annualized rate of 3.1 percent, the Commerce Department said in its final estimate, revised up from 2.8 percent.

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

Geithner won’t shield forex options from reforms-sources

The Treasury secretary has no plans to exempt certain types of foreign exchange options from heavy new regulations, sources familiar with the matter said, dashing hopes of financial players and corporations who use the products to hedge currency risks. Foreign exchange derivatives, in general, are a multitrillion-dollar market and are used by all types of companies to lock in prices to protect themselves from swings in currency exchange rates.

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

Doubts raised on OCC foreclosure estimate

A Reuters analysis raises doubts about a widely cited statement by Comptroller of the Currency John Walsh that only a “small number” of wrongful foreclosure sales have occurred despite widespread misdeeds by banks that are the leading mortgage loan servicers. In a February appearance before the Senate Banking Committee, Walsh testified that formal examinations of 14 banks contradicted fears that many thousands of homeowners had been evicted erroneously because of mistakes and wrongdoing by the banks.

For more of this analysis by Scot J. Paltrow, read here.

Small banks wooed in fight over Dodd-Frank

The fight over the new financial reform law has increasingly become a battle to win the hearts and minds of small bankers. At hearings, congressional Republicans have portrayed the Dodd-Frank law as a crippling weight on small banks. But regulators defending the law say it gives small banks more than just a stone with which to fight banking Goliaths. The wooing of the financial sector’s little guys represents the prevalent view that a good way to weaken or strengthen an aspect of the law is to make small banks your allies.

For more of this analysis by Dave Clarke, read here.

Rich paydays return for big bank CEOs post-crisis

It is raining money again on many top U.S. and EU bank executives, less than three years after taxpayers worldwide rescued the banking industry from the worst financial crisis in decades. Government responses to this vary from country to country. Britain and to a lesser extent the rest of the EU are embracing pay curbs, while the United States is doing little. These divergent approaches undermine pledges of global cooperation on reforming bank oversight, but the likelihood of changing national traditions on the issue seems slim.

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

No easy fix for U.S. nuclear waste nightmare

The disaster at a Japanese nuclear power plant is a chilling reminder that the U.S. nuclear energy industry has failed to solve a big problem — where and how to store millions of highly reactive spent fuel rods. For decades, power companies and regulators have put the issue in the “too hard” basket while the rods, which stay radioactive for many years, pile up around the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors. The danger is that even the crisis at the Fukushima plant won’t be enough to spur any major change.

For more of this analysis by Timothy Gardner and Ross Kerber, read here.

U.S. “time out” on trade deals nears end

A U.S. “time out” on new trade agreements rooted in the Democratic Party’s battle for the White House in 2008 appears to be nearly over as officials watch the European Union and others strike deals of their own. Within months, free trade deals with South Korea, Panama and Colombia could be approved by Congress, ending years of frustrating delays for U.S. business and sending a signal of U.S. seriousness in other trade talks..

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

Fed hawk Hoenig to step down October 1

Thomas Hoenig, one of the most outspoken anti-inflation hawks among senior Federal Reserve officials, will step down as president of the Kansas City Fed October 1, the bank said. Hoenig’s departure, which was widely expected as he reaches a regional Fed mandatory retirement age, will remove a strong voice of opposition to the central bank’s easy money policies.

For more of this story by Mark Felsenthal, read here.

US asks if food dyes make kids hyperactive

Regulators are weighing a question parents have asked since the 1970s: do artificial food dyes make children hyperactive? A consumer group has petitioned the government to ban blue, green, orange, red and yellow food colorings. The synthetic dyes are common in food and drinks ranging from PepsiCo’s Gatorade, Cheetos and Doritos to Kellogg’s Eggo waffles and Kraft’s Jell-O desserts.

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

From elsewhere…

Rare dinosaur found in Canada’s oil sands

The Canadian oil sands, a vast expanse of tar and sand being mined for crude oil, yielded treasure of another kind this week when an oil company worker unearthed a 110-million-year-old dinosaur fossil that wasn’t supposed to be there. The fossil is an ankylosaur, a plant-eating dinosaur with powerful limbs, armor plating and a club-like tail. Finding it in this region of northern Alberta was a surprise because millions of years ago the area was covered by water.

For more of this story, read here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Obama in Santiago, March 21)

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