Tales from the Trail

The First Draft: More pain ahead

Guess what? The economy is still in terrible shape.MARKETS-STOCKS/

The Dow Jones Industrial average plunged to its lowest level in six years yesterday, and all signs point to another lousy day on Wall Street today.

U.S. stock index futures are falling in early morning trading as worries about the fate of major banks mount. Shares of Citigroup were down 6.4 percent and Bank of America was down 8 percent in trading on the Frankfurt exchange.

President Obama has had a busy week. After signing the stimulus bill, unveiling his mortgage rescue plan and visiting Canada, he’ll talk up the stimulus at 10:30 a.m. today.

Every other economic indicator is in the toilet these days. How’s inflation? We’ll find out at 8:30 a.m., when the Labor Department releases its Consumer Price Index figures. Analysts say the numbers are expected to be moderate, with deflation more a concern than rising prices.

Authorities have tracked down accused fraudster Allen Stanford in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The FBI served the billionaire cricket promoter with civil charges accusing him of masterminding a “massive, ongoing fraud” with a price tag of roughly $8 billion.

First Draft: bad, add, mad

Mortgages gone bad, auto industry seeking an add, and a chimpanzee gone mad starting off the day.

President Barack Obama out in Arizona to outline a housing bailout plan to offer help on distressed mortgages at 12:15 p.m. Washington time. The plan commits up to $275 billion to support housing, including through government subsidies to mortgage lenders to encourage lower payments for borrowers.

FINANCIAL/TIMES-FORECLOSURES

More negative economic data. New U.S. housing starts and permits dropped to record lows in January. Housing starts fell 16.8 percent to an annual rate of 466,000 units and new building permits fell 4.8 percent to 521,000 units.

Obama family heads for first trip to presidential retreat

In another first for the new First Family, President Barack Obama and his brood left the White House on Saturday for a helicopter trip to Camp David, the presidential retreat outside Washington.

Dressed casually and looking relaxed, Obama left the executive mansion with his wife Michelle, daughters Malia and Sasha, mother-in-law Marian Robinson and an unidentified friend of the girls.

They boarded the awaiting helicopter and took off over the White House grounds. Spectators gathered outside the gates to watch.

First Draft: cooling off

Let it snow. Why should London have all the fun? Washington weather calls for a few inches, just enough for a snowball fight for hearty Midwesterners like President Barack Obama.

But guard that snow gear. The New York Times says reports of stolen snowplows are up in cold-weather states as the economy declines.

USA-OBAMA/Speaking of the declining economy, Obama doing separate interviews this afternoon with just about every TV channel in the vicinity of the White House — ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and FOX.

Nothing lost in translation on Biden dig

WASHINGTON – Vice President Joe Biden promised a “fully transparent” task force to help the middle class. So why is the audience laughing?

Biden is leading a task force to look at how to improve economic realities for working families. And it will have its own Web site astrongmiddleclass.gov as the Obama administration presses on with its goal to use the Internet to communicate with the public.

“This task force, I might add — which, coming out of the vice president’s office, will be a bit unique — will be fully transparent, totally transparent,” Biden said.

First Draft: Spinning

WASHINGTON – Lots of spinning going on.

Morning TV shows had footage of a spinning shark twirling out of the water and a spinning small plane blown about by the wind upon landing. And sports fans looking forward to the spinning football at Sunday’s Super Bowl.

NBC touting a live interview with President Barack Obama at about 5 p.m. EST before kick-off on Sunday.USA-POLITICS/OBAMA

Obama saying Wall Street taking bonuses while firms are being bailed out by taxpayer money is “the height of irresponsibility” and “shameful” is still making the rounds.

Club for Growth warns against stimulus vote

Beware any Republican who might fall for President Barack Obama’s sales pitch Tuesday for his $825 billion economic stimulus plan. A vote for the legislation will disqualify you from receiving the Club for Growth’s “Defender of Economic Freedom” award. 

The conservative economic advocacy group issued the warning just hours before Obama was to meet with Republican members of the House of Representatives and the Senate in hopes of drumming up more support for his economic recovery plan. OBAMA/

“No congressman can vote for the stimulus bill and claim to be a defender of economic freedom,” Club for Growth President Pat Toomey said in a statement. “In fact, the Democrats’ package is the antithesis of economic freedom. The bill is a paragon of government run amok, a ballooning deficit, fiscal irresponsibility, and political greed.” 

Contraceptives not the kind of stimulus Boehner can believe in

WASHINGTON – Barack Obama’s $825 billion plan to boost the recession-bound U.S. economy has some elements that, well, aren’t the sort of USAstimulus that House Minority Leader John Boehner says he can believe in.
 
“I’m concerned about the size of the package, and I’m concerned about some of the spending that’s in there,” Boehner complained Friday after a meeting at White House.
 
“How can you spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives? How does that stimulate the economy?”
 
Hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives?
 
The Ohio congressman’s office explains. One proposal included in the stimulus package would expand Medicaid family planning services to all 50 states.
 
The proposal would enable people who don’t qualify for Medicaid to receive the family planning services, including contraceptives.
 
“Whether or not you think that is good public policy, it has nothing to do with an economic stimulus,” a spokesman for Boehner said.
 
For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jason Reed (Boehner watches Obama speak to press)

from Global Investing:

The end of the Bush stock market

Today marks the end of the Bush stock market.

He has presided over the evisceration of more than $4.6 trillion of U.S. stock market wealth as measured by the S&P 500.

By comparison, the S&P 500 gained more than $9 trillion in value under the eight years of Bill Clinton's administration.

The First Draft, Wednesday Dec. 31

Happy New Year. It was a great political year. But most folks with a 401K retirement account and a mortgage will be glad to bid farewell to 2008 and ring in 2009 with a feeling of optimism that is natural with the start of a new year. 

 
FINANCIAL/TIMESIt would seem investors have gotten a whiff of that optimism.  After registering some of the worst annual losses in history, world stock markets look to close out the year on an up note. Wall street is poised to open higher with oil prices falling and the dollar rising.

  
Still, 2009 promises to bring more political drama. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who has been accused of trying to sell the vacant Senate seat, defied calls by his fellow Democrats to resign and appointed former state attorney general Roland Burris to fill the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.