Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – A late start

obama_gmIt must be more than a little frustrating to win the Nobel Peace Prize for your best intentions — ridding the world of nuclear weapons – and then struggle to even get the START Treaty ratified this year. Not surprising, then, that President Barack Obama told his deputy to work “day and night” to get this thing through.

But whatever the temptation to throw a little egg on the president’s face, many security analysts still find it amazing to see Republicans blocking a treaty that the U.S. military so strongly backs. Welcome to bipartisan Washington, again, I guess.

Despite the uneven start to the week, Wednesday was not a bad day for Obama by any means.

The president was able to celebrate GM’s successful blockbuster initial public offering, by implication a victory for his controversial bailout of the automobile industry. The offering cut the government’s stake in the company to 26 percent from 61 percent and raised more than $20 billion, with investors betting on a positive future for the automaker which so nearly went out of business. Obama said taxpayers would end up recovering more from General Motors than his administration spent on the bailout, adding that a million jobs were saved and many more were now being created.

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will travel to auto town Kokomo, Indiana next week to celebrate. The rescues of the banking and auto industries certainly didn’t make great politics in the midterm elections, but with much of the money coming back to the public purse, “bailout” might not be such a poisonous word in the 2012 campaign.

from DealZone:

‘New GM’ Gets a Visit from a Shareholder

obamalordstown1 GM's Lordstown, Ohio assembly plant has become a symbol of both GM's hard times and its best hopes for a turnaround after a $50 billion federal investment. A recent bump in sales because of the government's "Cash for Clunkers" program has allowed GM to call back more than 1,000 workers from layoff.   So it was a natural backdrop for a return visit by President Obama, who held a roundtable with workers and then gave a stump speech from the factory floor for his economic policies and health care reform.   But this is not your father's GM anymore and nothing about it as clear-cut as it seems -- even if you are the leader of the free world and head of the government that holds a controlling stake in the automaker.     At one point, Obama -- veering from his prepared remarks -- suggested that health-care reform would allow the UAW-represented workers in the audience to negotiate better wages.

“Think about it. If you are a member of the union right now, you’re spending all your time negotiating about health care. You need to be spending some time negotiating about wages, but you can’t do it," he said.

 

In fact, the UAW locked itself into a contract limiting wages and changes to health care, without the ability to negotiate with a threat of strike, until 2015. These stands were agreed to by the union at the prodding of the Obama administration, which demanded that union autoworkers accept lower wages -- as a condition to the bailout that saved Lordstown -- to match non-union workers at Toyota plants in Kentucky and Honda plants in Ohio.

No sequel to ‘cash for clunkers’ but…

While the $3 billion “Cash for Clunkers” blockbuster is over, Congress is not finished with Detroit. AUTOS/

No one is talking about a “Return of Clunker” or “Son of Clunker” sequel, but it still looks as if car companies will renew their part in the congressional agenda even as another humongous production — healthcare — threatens to swallow the Capitol whole.

A priority for Democrats everywhere is to push the benefits of economic stimulus and pound the podium on job creation. Thursday, the focus is on the future of manufacturing in the economically hard-hit Midwest — a battleground in any election scenario.

The First Draft: Blank screens

BASEBALL/Millions of Americans could be staring at blank TV screens tomorrow, when broadcasters switch to digital signals.

The U.S. government has spent years preparing for the switch, which aims to free up airwaves for broadband and enhanced emergency communications.

The change-over will only affect those who get their TV over the air, rather than through cable or satellite connections.

The First Draft: End of an era for GM

AUTOS/Even though it was expected, it was still a jolt: GM declared bankruptcy this morning, the third-largest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history and the biggest ever in U.S. manufacturing.

Unthinkable a decade ago, now General Motors is yet another casualty of the cratered U.S. economy, with taxpayers putting up $30 billion for a 60 percent stake in the company. The GM filing followed just hours after a bankruptcy judge approved the sale of virtually all of automaker Chrysler’s assets to a group led by Italy’s Fiat SpA.

Within minutes of the filing, the headlines were rocketing around the Web:
The Washington Post: “Filing Marks the End of Financial Independence for Industrial Icon”
The New York Times: “A Risky Bet to Save an Icon of American Capitalism”
The Drudge Report led its page with a photo of the GM logo under a U.S. flag, headlined: “Government Motors.”

The First Draft: Obama campaigns again – for his court pick

OBAMA/President Barack Obama is back on the campaign trail.

But this time he’s not trying to win himself a job …he is trying to win over support for his Supreme Court nominee,  Sonia Sotomayor.

Even though regular Americans — or the elite Democrats attending fundraisers — don’t get to vote for Supreme Court nominee, they can pressure their senators.

Sounding like he did while stumping for more than a year on the campaign trail, Obama spoke passionately about his choice of Sotomayor — the first Hispanic woman ever nominated to the high court — to Democrats at a fundraiser for Democratice Majority Leader Harry Reid in Las Vegas.

The First Draft: Obama picks hispanic woman for court

President Barack Obama announced Sonia Sotomayor as his nominee for the Supreme Court this morning.

Sotomayor will be the first Hispanic named to the court and would increase the number of women currently sitting on the court to two.

A reading of the tea leaves — via the presidential and vice presidential schedules — had increased chatter this morning that President Barack Obama could announce his nominee for the Supreme Court as soon as today.

The First Draft: Ghost Town

On the day that the government gives itself $787 billion to hand out, turns out there’s nobody in Washington to print it up and hand it out.

After a long Presidents’ Day weekend, President Barack Obama will load the 1,000-page stimulus bill onto Air Force One today and fly it to Denver to sign it into law.USA-STIMULUS/

Congress has adjourned for the week after passing the bill on Friday, so lawmakers are likely back home taking credit for — or distancing themselves from — the record-setting spending package.

Is it a car, is it a tank? No, it’s the presidential limo

It’s one of the world’s most highly visible vehicles, but paradoxically also one of the most secret — the U.S. president’s armored Cadillac limousine.

USA/The Secret Service said on Wednesday a new presidential limousine would make its debut at President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20. The car will likely take the new president from the U.S. Capitol down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House after the swearing-in ceremony.

“Although many of the vehicle’s security enhancements cannot be discussed, it is safe to say that this car’s security and coded communications systems make it the most technologically advanced protection vehicle in the world,” Nicholas Trotta, assistant director for the Office of Protective Operations, said in a statement.

from Global Investing:

Sen. Corker to Chrysler: best hope is merger

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker (right, in the driver's seat next to Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas), who pushed for tough conditions on the $17.4 billion U.S. government bailout for General Motors and Chrysler, said at the Detroit auto show that he hoped Chrysler would find a merger partner to survive.

"Chrysler probably needs to merge with somebody, not necessarily disappear from the standpoint of existence," said Corker, who added the automaker owned by Cerberus Capital Management was not making the needed investment to remain competitive. He spoke to reporters as he toured the show before meeting with executives for GM, Chrysler and Ford.

Corker, whose home state includes the U.S. headquarters for Japan's Nissan, also said he felt GM's debt load was too heavy and it may not meet the restructuring targets set out under the $13.4 billion loan granted to the company by the Bush administration.