Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Obama's Budget Delayed a Week

President Barack Obama's budget proposal for fiscal 2012 will be released in mid-February, a little more than a week after its planned release date. The administration is scrambling to assemble what could be a pivotal document following a six-week delay in the confirmation of the White House's new budget director, a senior administration official said Monday.

The budget's release date will be pushed back from Monday, Feb. 7, to some time the following week, the official said. The White House's new budget director, Jacob Lew, saw his confirmation put on hold by Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, who was protesting the administration's moratorium on offshore oil drilling. Mr. Lew was confirmed Nov. 19. 

The official also cited Congress's late moves to fund government operations for the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. Last week, Congress passed a resolution funding the government largely at last year's levels, but only through early March.

That means Mr. Obama will be releasing his budget plan for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, 2011 just as he prepares for difficult negotiations with House Republicans over spending for the current budget year.

The spending blueprint for fiscal 2012 could be momentous. Mr. Obama has promised spending cuts that will embody the "shared sacrifice" he says is needed to tame the $1.3 trillion budget deficit. It is also expected to launch broader debates about reshaping the U.S. tax code to make it simpler and to bring in more revenue. It also is likely to refer to changes the administration says need to be made to Social Security to secure the system's long-term solvency as the nation's population grows older.

Regardless of the president's proposals, the Republicans who will be controlling the House next year have vowed to make deeper cuts. Incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) has pledged to reduce domestic federal spending to the levels of 2008, before the financial crisis and the recession. White House officials have said cuts of that magnitude would imperil the economic recovery.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

US poised to approve nuclear arms pact with Russia

The Senate is poised to approve a nuclear arms pact with Russia, handing President Barack Obama a huge victory on his top foreign policy priority.

Passage of the New START treaty appeared assured after 11 Republicans joined Democrats in a vote Tuesday to end debate on the pact. That signaled that Obama should have the two-thirds majority he needs when the Senate votes on final approval Wednesday.

The approval would mark a big comeback for Obama's arm controls efforts after the treaty appeared all but dead just weeks ago. It also would allow Obama to continue efforts to improve relations with Russia.

Ratification would mark a third recent major political victory for Obama, even though his Democratic party was trounced in last month's congressional elections. In recent days he won passage of a bipartisan tax deal and a vote ending the ban on gays openly serving in the military.

"We are on the brink of writing the next chapter in the 40-year history of wrestling with the threat of nuclear weapons," Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, a Democrat, said after the vote.

The treaty would limit each country's strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, down from the current ceiling of 2,200. It also would establish a system for monitoring and verification. U.S. weapons inspections ended last year with the expiration of a 1991 treaty.

The administration was adamant that it be ratified this year because the Democrats' majority in the Senate is set to shrink by five in January and waiting could have meant months of delay or defeat.

Republicans accused Democrats of rushing approval of the treaty for political reasons. They have asserted it would limit U.S. missile defense options and argued it has insufficient procedures to verify Russia's adherence.
When Jon Kyl, the leading Republican on negotiations over the treaty, suggested a delay last month, Obama appeared unlikely to find the nine Republican votes needed for passage.

But he and top members of his administration lobbied intensely, with Obama postponing his Christmas vacation in Hawaii. They enlisted support from top military officials and big-name Republicans from past administrations who argued the treaty was essential for U.S. national security.

In the end, they persuaded enough Republicans to defy the party's top two leaders in the Senate and support the pact.

"We know when we've been beaten," Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch told reporters hours before Tuesday's vote.

Even the Senate's No. 3 Republican, Lamar Alexander, endorsed the accord, saying he was assured U.S. defenses would not be weakened.

The treaty will leave the United States "with enough nuclear warheads to blow any attacker to kingdom come," Alexander said on the Senate floor.

Republicans had tried to kill the treaty by forcing changes in its language that would have sent it back for negotiations with Moscow. Democrats were working to appease some Republican senators by letting them raise these issues in legislation accompanying the treaty that would not directly affect the treaty.

Most Republicans remained opposed.

"The administration did not negotiate a good treaty," Kyl said. "They went into the negotiations it seems to me with the attitude with the Russians just like the guy who goes into the car dealership and says, `I'm not leaving here until I buy a car.'"

Though Kyl looks likely to vote on the losing side of the debate over the treaty, in his negotiations with the administration he did win Obama's commitment to modernize the remaining nuclear arsenal with projected spending of $85 billion over 10 years.

Some of that money is now in the pipeline, contained in a stopgap government funding bill that cleared Congress on Tuesday. The measure would finance the government, mostly at current levels, through March 4.
It makes an exception for nuclear security programs, allowing the government to spend money to modernize the United States' nuclear arsenal at a rate equal to Obama's $624 million request.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2010/12/19/national/w084401S97.DTL&tsp=1

Friday, December 10, 2010

Russian foreign minister doubts NATO sincerity after Baltic leak

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has expressed concern over NATO's integrity after the revelation of the military alliance's plans on defending the Baltic states against Russia.

The latest batch of U.S. embassy cables released by WikiLeaks shows NATO drew up plans in January to defend the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania against any possible attack by Russia.

"The question arises as to when NATO was being sincere," Lavrov said. "When they talk to us on developing a partnership or when they resolve contradictory issues among themselves behind closed doors?"

"We have posed these questions and we expect to get answers. I presume we have the right," Lavrov added.

Russia's top diplomat also said that NATO's plans were being developed in December 2009 at the same time as the first high-level Russian-NATO Council meeting since the August 2008 Russia-Georgia war.

"So with one hand, NATO openly agrees to develop joint cooperation documents on a ministerial level, and with the other hand they make a decision behind our backs to defend themselves from us," Lavrov went on.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen said NATO did not consider Russia as an enemy, and that the alliance itself did not pose a threat to Russia.

"We want to move ahead in our relationship and we want to preserve and maintain the positive spirit of the partnership that took place in Lisbon [during the Russia-NATO summit]," Rasmussen said.
The NATO head declined however to comment on the WikiLeaks release in question.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chevron World Challenge 2010 Leaderboard, Tiger Woods Tee Time, PGA Golf

Chevron World Challenge golf tournament hosted by Tiger Woods, will takes place today at Sherwood Country Club, a course designed by Jack Nicklaus, in Thousand Oaks, California. This tournament will be the final chance for Tiger Woods to get his first win of 2010. A win this week would show his most recent changes are starting to pay off. You can watch Chevron World Challenge 2010 live coverage on Golf Channel, NBC.

The defending champion Jim Furyk, Graeme McDowell along with Steve Stricker, Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan, Stewart Cink, Zach Johnson, Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson. Woods did not compete in 2008 due to knee surgery following his 2008 U.S. Open victory, even though he was the two-time defending champion. Woods did not play in 2009 due to injuries sustained in a one-car accident.

Chevron World Challenge 2010 Leaderboard – Tee Times

Player Total Today Thru
Woods, Tiger E 2:10 PM ET
Stricker, Steve E 2:10 PM ET
Furyk, Jim E 2:20 PM ET
Casey, Paul E 1:40 PM ET
Poulter, Ian E 1:40 PM ET
Chevron World Challenge Golf Tournament 2010 Prize Money
Chevron World Challenge Golf Tournament 2010 Prize Money (Purse): $5 million
Chevron World Challenge Golf Tournament 2010 Winning Share: $1.2 million

Chevron World Challenge is an offseason golf tournament hosted by Tiger Woods, which takes place each December at Sherwood Country Club, a course designed by Jack Nicklaus, in Thousand Oaks, California. In its first year, 1999, it was played at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. The tournament was established as a charity fundraiser by Woods, and all the charitable funds raised go to charities with which he is associated. This is similar to many official PGA Tour events, but they usually have fields of around 150, as opposed to only 18. The first prize is $1.35 million, and last place is $170,000. Woods usually donates his prize money to his Tiger Woods Foundation.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Major banks face $2bn hit from reform plans

THE major Australian banks could face an earnings hit of up to $2 billion a year. 
This, as a Greens proposal to scrap transaction fees and autoteller charges gathers support from crossbench members of parliament.

The Greens have proposed the banks be forced to provide fee-free transaction accounts and cap standard variable interest changes to Reserve Bank cash rate movements for the next two years.

The proposed legislation, introduced by Greens MP Adam Bandt, is gaining momentum after it was yesterday backed by independents Andrew Wilkie, Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Bob Katter, and WA Nationals MP Tony Crook.

The crossbench support for the Greens plan was interpreted by many in the industry as an indication the group could back opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey's call for an independent inquiry into the banking sector.

It is likely the crossbench MPs will demand the Hockey inquiry examine its proposals in return for their initial support.

Mr Wilkie said there was a need to break down the big four's domination of the banking sector.

"At the moment the big four banks are acting absolutely outrageously . . . and the public interest has been lost in this," Mr Wilkie said.

The plans to stop the banks charging up to $2 for non-customers using their autoteller networks, and changes to transaction account fee structures, could be a major earnings sting for the top four institutions. The autoteller moves would not apply to independent operators, only the banks.

The Reserve Bank estimates that transaction fees earned the banks $1.63bn last year, the most recent figures available. Industry observers said the autoteller fees would be worth at least $400m.

The possible changes come on top of fees already abolished by the banks in the past year, worth nearly $1bn.

The major banks have had discussions with the Greens in the past month to argue against the legislation's proposed changes.

The gathering support could put pressure on the government, which is due to reveal its banking reform package within weeks.

Australian Bankers Association chief executive Steven Munchenberg said there was a risk the banks could remove autotellers from underused locations, which were generally rural and regional centres.

"I would be very concerned if the Greens' proposals were achieved," he said. "It could result in many ATMs in some areas becoming uncommercial, and there would be a danger that the banks would not expand their networks in some areas . . .

"If that was to happen, there would be the option for the other half of the industry (independent ATM networks) that would not be regulated under this legislation to provide their services at a much higher cost."

National Australia Bank chief executive Cameron Clyne is expected to respond to the political scrutiny of the banks in a speech today in Sydney.