Tales from the Trail

The First Draft: Economy steadying?

Slowly but surely, more economists and experts are expressing some optimism about the economy, saying the worst might be over. New indicators released this morning support that sentiment.USA-UNEMPLOYMENT

Richmond Federal Reserve President Jeffrey Lacker told the Danville Register & Bee newspaper that he thought the economy was leveling out and there was “reason for hope.”

Government data released today showed the U.S. economy contracted more slowly than expected in the second quarter of the year. Other figures showed the number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits dropped last week and those collecting long-term unemployment benefits fell to the lowest level since April.

Other than the economic indicators, it looks to be a slow, August day in Washington. President Barack Obama is still on vacation and has no plans to speak to the media today as he has the past couple of days.

Several days of mourning for Senator Edward Kennedy began on Thursday with a private family mass in Hyannis Port before the senator’s body will be taken to the presidential library of his late brother. The body will remain there until Saturday when his funeral will be held at a Boston church. He will be buried on Saturday evening at Arlington National Cemetery near the graves of his slain brothers John and Robert.

The First Draft: Obama’s travels of no help at home

President Barack Obama remains hard at work at the summit of G8 wealthy industrialized nations in Italy on Thursday, while his top domestic initiatives stumble and misfire at home.

Obama’s top legislative priority, a massive overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system, has lurched through weeks of intensive horse-trading and positioning on Capitol Hill, where five different committees in Congress are trying to fashion workable proposals that can win initial approval by the August recess.

That timeline appears to be slipping as the effort to attract Republican support, pare the bill’s price tag of at least $1 trillion and find ways to pay for it without broad tax increases has left even some Democrats restive.

Obama talk on economic troubles turns to religion

When things are down and out people tend to go in search of higher powers.

And President Barack Obama is, after all, a person (and does not walk on water like some fans might believe).

His speech on the economy, given in a hall with painted religious figures at Georgetown University, a Jesuit school, was sprinkled with religious metaphors. Perhaps he’s hoping for some divine intervention out of the country’s financial mess.

(The religious metaphors come on the heels of Obama’s first attendance at a Sunday church service since he became president. Coincidence?) OBAMA/

Good Friday: Obama discusses economy

It’s Good Friday and U.S. financial markets are closed, but the government is open for business.

President Barack Obama will discuss financial conditions in a meeting this morning with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp head Sheila Bair, Securities and Exchange Commission chief Mary Shapiro and Comptroller of the Currency John Dugan.

Obama is expected to make some brief public remarks at the end of the meeting.  The White House session comes amid tentative signs of recovery in ailing financial and retail sectors, according to a front page story in the Washington Post.

First draft: Back home, back to the economy

Back from his first international tour, President Barack Obama jumps back into his FINANCIAL/MORTGAGESgovernment’s efforts to help the struggling American economy.

First order of business is a roundtable discussion at the White House about low interest rates. The meeting will include members of Obama’s economic team and in an effort to draw attention to the benefits of low interest rates, Obama will also meet some homeowners who have refinanced now that rates are at historical lows.

During his meeting with his top economic advisers, Obama is expected to discuss the progress of “stress tests” of the 19 largest U.S. banks to see how they would withstand even tougher economic times.

First draft: New wax likeness of Michelle awaits Obama

If a bleary-eyed President Barack Obama, tired after a whirlwind 8-day tour of Europe with a stop in Iraq, accidentally wandered a few blocks away from the White House he might be surprised to see his wife Michelle all dressed up in a red and black outfit complete with pearls.

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It’s not his real wife, but just a wax likeness unveiled this week at Madame Tussauds museum.  The wax Michelle Obama and a figure of the president are popular photo opportunities for tourists who take their photos making silly poses with the wax first couple.

Obama might have time for a quick trip to the Wax Museum today, because he has nothing on his public schedule after returning to the White House from his first international tour at around 3 a.m. this morning. Even Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has been given a reprieve from the daily public grilling.

First draft: Obama slips into Iraq

OBAMA-TURKEY/After calling for Middle East peace and saying he believed in a dialogue with Islam, President Barack Obama ended his first international tour with a surprise trip to Iraq.

Obama took off from Istanbul and, instead of heading home to Washington, traveled to Iraq for a quick visit. He was due to meet U.S. commanders and troops and will speak to Iraqi leaders by telephone. Poor weather in the area caused him to scratch plans to take a helicopter to meet Iraqi leaders in person.

The White House said Obama — who won strong support during the presidential campaign for vowing to wind down the unpopular war in Iraq — would tell Iraqi leaders that there are political solutions to their challenges.

Obama laughter: ‘punch drunk’ or ‘gallows humor’

The Internet is abuzz over what to make of President Barack Obama’s laughter during a CBS “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday.

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Interviewer Steve Kroft, as they discussed the ailing automobile industry, said to Obama: “You’re sitting here, and you’re — You are laughing about some of these problems.  Are people going to look at this and say, ‘I mean, he’s sitting there, just making jokes about money’.”

He went on to ask Obama how he explained his mood and laughter.  ”Are you punch drunk?” Kroft asked.

First draft: Michael Phelps takes cue from politicians

Take note politicians. Michael Phelps might have some pointers for you.

PHELPS/He won eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, but swimmer Phelps sounded more like a politician than an athlete in a morning TV interview today — repeatedly admitting he had made mistakes but sidestepping any direct admission that he had smoked marijuana.

In an interview on NBC’s “Today” show Phelps, who was banned from swimming for three months after a picture was published of of him smoking a “bong” pipe at a party last November, said he had made a “bad mistake”, a “stupid mistake” and showed “bad judgement.”

Asked directly if he had been smoking pot Phelps just said: “It was a bad mistake. I mean, we all know what, you know, what you and I are talking about. It’s a stupid mistake. You know, bad judgment. And it’s something that, you know, I have to, and I want to teach other people not to make that mistake.”

Thinking about the U.S. economy? It helps to be a stool maker

WASHINGTON – Trying to figure out where the Obama team is going on the economy? It probably helps to be a stool maker.
 
The $825 billion stimulus bill moving through Congress “is just one leg in a multi-legged stool,” the president said during a visit to Congress this week.
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Reporters have been trying ever since to figure out exactly how many legs are on the economic recovery stool.
 
“Is it a three-legged or a four-legged stool?” one reporter asked White House spokesman Robert Gibbs during a briefing Thursday. And, “What are those legs specifically?”
 
“I think roughly you have, whether you’re talking about stools or pillars or what have you, three main areas,” Gibbs said. “You have a Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, which is moving through Congress. You have a financial stability package. And you have financial re-regulation.”
 
“I don’t know that it’s tremendously pertinent to get caught up in whether there are three stools, three legs on this stool or four, or rungs, or what have you,” he said.
 
“I think the American people understand that we have to deal with … each of these in order to move the economy forward.”
 
Then Gibbs added a complication: ”I’m not sure … which leg housing is.”
 
But he sought to reassure the American people.
 
“You may not understand which leg of the stool you’re on, but you understand it’s a problem that has to be dealt with.”
 
What about the “international leg of the stool that was discussed by the G20 here … people say that it’s not moving anywhere,” asked a reporter, referring to a group of industrialized and major developing nations.
 
Gibbs said more detail on the international leg would be forthcoming as the G20 meeting in London in April draws near.
 
Reporters were not entirely satisfied with the level of detail coming from the White House spokesman.
 
“I’m wondering,” said one, “when you’re going to show us a little more leg.”
 
For more Reuters political news, please click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jim Young (Gibbs at a briefing Tuesday)