June 23, 2017

Economix Blog: The Senate Acts

FLOYD NORRIS

FLOYD NORRIS

Notions on high and low finance.

On Wednesday night, not long after the Senate made clear it would do nothing about gun control, a news release arrived in my in e-mail in which two senators proclaim something the Senate accomplished that very day:

Washington, D.C. — Nevada Senator Harry Reid and Arizona Senator John McCain applauded the passage by unanimous consent this evening of the Resolution calling on President Obama to pardon the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion, John Arthur “Jack” Johnson. Mr. Johnson was wrongfully convicted in 1913 under the Mann Act, which prohibited transporting women across state lines for “immoral purposes.”

“The unanimous pardon of Jack Johnson by the United States Senate helps to correct the record of American history by restoring Jack Johnson’s good name,” said Senator Harry Reid. “This generations-old conviction is not just about one man’s legacy. The tragic story of Jack Johnson is a blemish on American athletics, but the successful effort by a diverse array of groups and individuals to restore his name demonstrates the enduring power of equality in our national character. I am confident the House of Representatives will approve the Senate’s resolution without delay and send it to President Obama for his signature so we can put our collective weight behind the right side of history.”

“I am proud that for the second time in recent years, the Senate today unanimously approved a Congressional Resolution calling on President Obama to pardon Jack Johnson, the world’s first African-American heavyweight champion, for the unjust, racially-motivated conviction that ended his career and tarnished his legacy,” said Senator John McCain. “With the leadership of Congressman Peter King, I am sure that the House of Representatives will also soon approve this Resolution, as it did unanimously in 2009. It is disgraceful that this racist conviction has been permitted to stand and stain the legacy of Jack Johnson for the last 100 years. I urge the President to right this historical wrong by granting Jack Johnson a posthumous pardon, for which there is ample historical precedent.”

Jack Johnson was born in Galveston, Texas, on March 31, 1878 and in 1908, he became the first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion after defeating Tommy Burns in Australia – a title Johnson held until 1915. Prompted by his success in the boxing ring and his relationship with a Caucasian woman, Jack Johnson was wrongly convicted under the Mann Act when he brought the woman he was dating across state lines. The intent of the Mann Act was to prevent human trafficking of women for the purpose of prostitution. However, a racially motivated 1913 conviction imprisoned Jack Johnson for a year. The conviction ruined his career and destroyed his reputation. Senator McCain and Congressman King, both lifelong boxing fans, have been introducing legislation to pardon Jack Johnson since 2004.

Next time you hear somebody complain about the inability of Congress to deal with the issues confronting Americans, tell them about this.

Article source: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/18/the-senate-acts/?partner=rss&emc=rss

President Obama’s Budget Revives Benefits as Divisive Issue

In the midterm races already taking shape, Democrats who back Mr. Obama’s budget proposals to trim future benefits as part of a long-term deficit-reduction compromise could be attacked from the left and the right.

Liberal groups and some union activists are threatening to recruit candidates to challenge these Democrats in their primaries. At the same time, the head of the House Republicans’ campaign committee gleefully signaled last week that he would use Mr. Obama’s “shocking attack on seniors” against Democrats in general-election races — though Republican Congressional leaders demanded the concessions from Mr. Obama. And while party leaders rebuked the campaign committee chief, Representative Greg Walden of Oregon, individual Republican candidates and “super PACs” would be free to wage their own attacks.

For now, at least, the political warnings to Democrats are coming mostly from the left of their own party.

“You cannot be a good Democrat and cut Social Security,” said Arshad Hasan, the executive director of Democracy for America, a liberal grass-roots group, which staged a small protest outside the White House last week even before Mr. Obama released his annual budget on Wednesday.

“People would be looking to punish them,” said Robert Borosage, a co-founder of the Campaign for America’s Future, another liberal group, “and they would be looking for primary challengers.”

Even if Democratic incumbents do not draw a primary challenger, liberal activists say, they might face a shortage of volunteers motivated enough to do the hard work of campaigning — just as Democrats did in the 2010 midterms, which resulted in big Republican gains.

Looking further ahead, to 2016, some on the left have already begun talking about encouraging a liberal Democrat — the freshman Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is the name most bandied — to take up the “don’t touch Social Security or Medicare” banner as part of a liberal bid for the party’s nomination to succeed Mr. Obama, even against Hillary Rodham Clinton or Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Such talk was stoked when Ms. Warren, within hours of the release of the president’s budget on Wednesday, sent supporters an e-mail sounding an alarm: “Our Social Security system is critical to protecting middle-class families, and we cannot allow it to be dismantled inch by inch.”

She was not available for an interview, aides said on Friday.

“If the major candidates running for the Democratic nomination hedge on important issues like Social Security, they will leave open a tremendous amount of space for an insurgent,” said Adam Green, a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a group often critical of Mr. Obama.

But, Mr. Green acknowledged, “I wouldn’t say anybody’s laying the groundwork yet.”

At a minimum, Mr. Borosage said, all Democratic candidates in 2014 or 2016 “will be forced to take a stand.”

That prospect could complicate the campaign strategies of establishment favorites. Mr. Biden is inevitably tied to Mr. Obama’s policies. And Mrs. Clinton, as a senator, was a fiscal moderate who extolled her husband’s budget-balancing record of compromise. President Bill Clinton negotiated Medicare savings with Congressional Republicans, and their 1997 deal nearly included the same proposal trimming Social Security cost-of-living increases that Mr. Obama has put in his budget to entice Republicans to compromise in turn.

Ideological litmus tests have lately been more divisive for Republicans than for Democrats, over taxes and social issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and immigration. But the agitation on the left to defend Social Security and Medicare, the two programs that Democrats consider perhaps their party’s greatest legacy, did not begin last week with Mr. Obama’s new budget.

It had been building since mid-2011, when the president, in private negotiations with Speaker John A. Boehner, tentatively agreed to the new formula for calculating cost-of-living adjustments in Social Security; economists recommend the formula as more accurate, but it would mean smaller increases for Social Security beneficiaries. Even so, Democrats in Congress and the White House agree that the party would have supported Mr. Obama back then if a compromise deal had come to a vote.

But the 2011 talks, just like a second round of negotiations in December, collapsed after Mr. Boehner declined to agree to Mr. Obama’s counterdemands: new taxes on the wealthy and on some corporations, and job-creating investments in infrastructure projects, research and education.

Sarah Wheaton contributed reporting.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/us/politics/president-obamas-budget-revives-benefits-as-divisive-issue.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Economix Blog: A Budget Focus on Inequality

The great economic focus of the White House, the financial crisis and recession aside, has been inequality.

The hollowing out of the middle class, the yawning gap between rich and poor, and the problem of economic mobility were preoccupations of President Obama long before he set foot in the White House. His 2006 book, “The Audacity of Hope,” for instance, contains a whole chapter dedicated to wage polarization, globalization and the plight of blue-collar workers.

The Obama budget proposal released Wednesday, like other White House budgets before it, also emphasizes the problem of inequality and the failure of the American economy to promote a thriving middle class.

“It is our generation’s task to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth – a rising, thriving middle class,” it says, calling support for the middle class the “North Star” of policy-making. “It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country – the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead.”

The budget includes several proposals to tackle inequality and wage stagnation.

  • Increasing the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour from its current rate of $7.25, and indexing it to inflation. The White House asserts that this would lift the wages of about 15 million low-wage workers.
  • Creating a “Preschool for All” initiative to provide early childhood education to 4-year-olds from low- and middle-income families. The big idea is that this might improve economic mobility in the future.
  • Increased taxes on wealthy Americans, including taxing carried interest as ordinary income. Hedge-fund managers and the like use the carried interest loophole to pay preferential rates on their earnings.
  • Increased support for manufacturing, which the White House argues might be an important source of middle-class jobs.
  • Making permanent the expansion of the earned income tax credit and child credit, which were due to expire in 2017. The proposal also makes permanent the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which helps families with students pay for college.

So far, the Obama administration has tackled the issue of inequality in two major ways. It has raised taxes on the wealthy, and it has expanded programs to aid lower-income Americans.

You might not think that the Affordable Care Act had much to do with inequality – it is a health care bill, after all – but it did. Rising insurance costs have eaten away at workers’ wages; the law has a number of provisions to try to bend the cost curve. Medical bills are a primary driver of bankruptcy for middle-class families; the law removes the lifetime benefit limit, ends denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions and contains other rules that might help reduce the number of bankruptcies.

Moreover, the law provides free or low-cost access to health coverage to tens of millions of Americans, financed by the government. That might not address the problem of income inequality. But it does address the problem of consumption inequality and perhaps even economic mobility.

Mr. Obama has paid for the Affordable Care Act and other initiatives to push money to lower-income Americans – like an expansion of the earned income tax credit – with higher taxes on the wealthy. He has thus far raised the top marginal tax rate on income to 39.6 percent from 35 percent, reduced deductions for some families and raised taxes on investment income in the January deal to avoid the fiscal cliff, making the tax code more progressive.

But if anything, the plight of the middle class has gotten worse since Mr. Obama took office, a result of long-existing economic trends and the after-effects of the deep recession.

Real median income has continued to decline during the sluggish recovery. It is about 8 percent lower than it was when the recession hit in 2007, and 9 percent lower than it was at its peak in 1999, a period in which economic output has expanded about 24 percent. To translate: the country is getting richer, but the average worker is earning less, and that has been true for well over a decade.

On top of that, the recovery has seen middle-class jobs effectively replaced with low-income jobs. According to research by the National Employment Law Project, low-wage occupations account for 21 percent of job losses during the recession and 58 percent of job growth during the recovery. In contrast, middle-wage occupations account for 60 percent of recession losses and only 20 percent of recovery growth.

But – as always, perhaps – it is not a bad time to be rich. Job growth in high-wage professions has been decent, if not spectacular. And updated research by the economist Emmanuel Saez of the University of California, Berkeley, shows that the real income of the 99 percent has fallen during the recovery, but surged 11 percent for the top 1 percent of earners, led by a stock-market boom.

Thus, Mr. Obama’s policies might not have reduced inequality before taxes and government transfers. But the White House has been aggressive in using taxes and transfers to try to blunt its effects.

Article source: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/10/a-budget-focus-on-inequality/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Roger Ebert, Movie Critic of the Mainstream, Dies at 70

His death was announced by The Chicago Sun-Times, where he had worked for more than 40 years. No cause was specified, but he had suffered from cancer and related health problems since 2002.

It would not be a stretch to say that Mr. Ebert was the best-known film reviewer of his generation, and one of the most trusted. The force and grace of his opinions propelled film criticism into the mainstream of American culture. Not only did he advise moviegoers about what to see, but also how to think about what they saw.

President Obama reacted to Mr. Ebert’s death with a statement that said, in part: “For a generation of Americans — especially Chicagoans — Roger was the movies. When he didn’t like a film, he was honest; when he did, he was effusive — capturing the unique power of the movies to take us somewhere magical.”

Mr. Ebert’s struggle with cancer gave him an altogether different public image — as someone who refused to surrender to illness. Though he had operations for cancer of the thyroid, salivary glands and chin, lost his ability to eat, drink and speak (a prosthesis partly obscured the loss of much of his jaw, and he was fed through a tube for years) and became a gaunter version of his once-portly self, he continued to write reviews and commentary and published a cookbook on meals that could be made with a rice cooker.

“When I am writing, my problems become invisible, and I am the same person I always was,” he told Esquire magazine in 2010. “All is well. I am as I should be.”

In recent years, Mr. Ebert became a prolific presence on Facebook and Twitter, on which he had more than 800,000 followers, and was a blogger as well.

He fired tweets with machine-gun rapidity, on topics both profound and prosaic. He commented on pro football, his captions for The New Yorker cartoon contest, an old pub he once frequented, James Joyce short stories and untold numbers of movies and television shows, to which he linked. “Pixar is the first studio that is a movie star,” went one tweet.

He swore he would not become addicted to Twitter, but emphatically did. But Mr. Ebert — whose handle was @ebertchicago — never tweeted during a movie.

Mr. Ebert liked to say his approach — dryly witty, occasionally sarcastic, sometimes quirky in his opinions — reflected the working newspaper reporter he had been, not a formal student of film. His tastes ran from the classics to boldly independent cinema to cartoons, and his put-downs could be withering.

“I will one day be thin, but Vincent Gallo will always be the director of ‘The Brown Bunny,’ ” he wrote.

His thumbs-up-or-down approach drew scorn from some critics, who said it trivialized film criticism. Speaking to Playboy magazine in 1991, Mr. Ebert agreed that his television program at the time was “not a high-level, in-depth film-criticism show.” But he argued that it demonstrated to younger viewers that one can bring standards of judgment to movies, that “it’s O.K. to have an opinion.”

In 1975 he became the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize, for his Sun-Times reviews. His columns were syndicated to more than 200 newspapers in the United States and abroad, and he wrote more than 15 books, many by skillfully recycling his columns. In 2005 he became the first film critic to be honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

“In the century or so that there has been such a thing as film criticism, no other critic has ever occupied the space held by Roger Ebert,” Mick LaSalle, movie critic for The San Francisco Chronicle, wrote in 2010. “Others as influential as Ebert have not been as esteemed. Others as esteemed as Ebert have not had the same direct and widespread influence. And no one, but no one, has enjoyed the same fame.”

With Mr. Siskel, Mr. Ebert popularized television film criticism. Their collaboration began in 1975. Mr. Ebert was asked to appear on WTTW, the public broadcasting station in Chicago, as co-host of a new movie-review program. He was intrigued, but then taken aback when told that Mr. Siskel, the film critic of The Chicago Tribune, would be his partner.

“The answer was at the tip of my tongue: no,” Mr. Ebert told Time magazine in 1987.

As for Mr. Siskel, he said he initially had no desire to team up with “the most hated guy in my life.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 4, 2013

An earlier version of this article misidentified a movie critic for The San Francisco Chronicle. He is Mick LaSalle, not Mike LaSalle.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/05/movies/roger-ebert-film-critic-dies.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Roger Ebert, 1942-2013: Roger Ebert, Movie Critic of the Mainstream, Dies at 70

His death was announced by The Chicago Sun-Times, where he had worked for more than 40 years. No cause was specified, but he had suffered from cancer and related health problems since 2002. It would not be a stretch to say that Mr. Ebert was the best-known film reviewer of his generation, and one of the most trusted. The force and grace of his opinions propelled film criticism into the mainstream of American culture. Not only did he advise moviegoers about what to see, but also how to think about what they saw.

President Obama reacted to Mr. Ebert’s death with a statement that said, in part: “For a generation of Americans — especially Chicagoans — Roger was the movies. When he didn’t like a film, he was honest; when he did, he was effusive — capturing the unique power of the movies to take us somewhere magical.”

Mr. Ebert’s struggle with cancer gave him an altogether different public image — as someone who refused to surrender to illness. Though he had operations for cancer of the thyroid, salivary glands and chin, lost his ability to eat, drink and speak (a prosthesis partly obscured the loss of much of his jaw, and he was fed through a tube for years) and became a gaunter version of his once-portly self, he continued to write reviews and commentary and published a cookbook on meals that could be made with a rice cooker.

“When I am writing, my problems become invisible, and I am the same person I always was,” he told Esquire magazine in 2010. “All is well. I am as I should be.”

In recent years, Mr. Ebert became a prolific presence on Facebook and Twitter, on which he had more than 800,000 followers, and was a blogger as well.

He fired tweets with machine-gun rapidity, on topics both profound and prosaic. He commented on pro football, his captions for The New Yorker cartoon contest, an old pub he once frequented, James Joyce short stories and untold numbers of movies and television shows, to which he linked. “Pixar is the first studio that is a movie star,” went one tweet.

He swore he would not become addicted to Twitter, but emphatically did. But Mr. Ebert — whose handle was @ebertchicago — never tweeted during a movie.

Mr. Ebert liked to say his approach — dryly witty, occasionally sarcastic, sometimes quirky in his opinions — reflected the working newspaper reporter he had been, not a formal student of film. His tastes ran from the classics to boldly independent cinema to cartoons, and his put-downs could be withering.

“I will one day be thin, but Vincent Gallo will always be the director of ‘The Brown Bunny,’ ” he wrote.

His thumbs-up-or-down approach drew scorn from some critics, who said it trivialized film criticism. Speaking to Playboy magazine in 1991, Mr. Ebert agreed that his television program at the time was “not a high-level, in-depth film-criticism show.” But he argued that it demonstrated to younger viewers that one can bring standards of judgment to movies, that “it’s O.K. to have an opinion.”

In 1975 he became the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize, for his Sun-Times reviews. His columns were syndicated to more than 200 newspapers in the United States and abroad, and he wrote more than 15 books, many by skillfully recycling his columns. In 2005 he became the first film critic to be honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

“In the century or so that there has been such a thing as film criticism, no other critic has ever occupied the space held by Roger Ebert,” Mick LaSalle, movie critic for The San Francisco Chronicle, wrote in 2010. “Others as influential as Ebert have not been as esteemed. Others as esteemed as Ebert have not had the same direct and widespread influence. And no one, but no one, has enjoyed the same fame.”

With Mr. Siskel, Mr. Ebert popularized television film criticism. Their collaboration began in 1975. Mr. Ebert was asked to appear on WTTW, the public broadcasting station in Chicago, as co-host of a new movie-review program. He was intrigued, but then taken aback when told that Mr. Siskel, the film critic of The Chicago Tribune, would be his partner.

“The answer was at the tip of my tongue: no,” Mr. Ebert told Time magazine in 1987.

As for Mr. Siskel, he said he initially had no desire to team up with “the most hated guy in my life.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 4, 2013

An earlier version of this article misidentified a movie critic for The San Francisco Chronicle. He is Mick LaSalle, not Mike LaSalle.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/05/movies/roger-ebert-film-critic-dies.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Man Who Helped Image of Wal-Mart Steps Down

Wal-Mart said on Friday that Leslie Dach, a former aide in the Clinton administration who is credited with polishing the company’s image through energy conservation, environmentally friendly packaging and philanthropy, is resigning after almost seven years.

He is leaving as the company deals with international bribery investigations, questions about factory safety among its global suppliers and scattered protests at stores. Mr. Dach said that his decision was not related to the global giant’s recent problems but that he believed he had accomplished many of the goals of making Wal-Mart palatable to a range of groups.

“When things are going really well, that’s the right time to do it,” said Mr. Dach, who will stay on until June.

As the executive vice president of corporate affairs, his duties included overseeing government and public relations and the Walmart Foundation. The president of the foundation, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, was nominated this month by President Obama to lead the Office and Management and Budget, potentially leaving another gap at the company.

Even critics of Wal-Mart give Mr. Dach some credit. “Wal-Mart became much more adept at constructing a public image that would appeal to liberal audiences after he came on board,” said Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which encourages environmentally conscious development and frequently opposes Wal-Mart’s policies.

Mr. Dach arrived at the company in August 2006 as public opinion soured with criticism of its pay and benefits and claims that its pressure on vendors to cut costs was sending jobs overseas.

According to the YouGov BrandIndex Buzz index, which measures whether people have recently heard positive or negative things about a company, in mid-2007, the earliest data available, Wal-Mart’s score was about a negative 5 on a scale of negative 100 to positive 100, but it rose to the 20s in 2009. After an article in The New York Times last April reported that executives had ignored evidence of bribery in Mexico, it sank to about 7. It recovered before falling again around the holidays, when unions threatened a Black Friday protest and another New York Times article about bribery in Mexico was published. Its score is now around 10, in line with discount retailers as a whole.

 “He helped position them as being good — good for seniors, good for families, good for the community — and they really were perceived as bad,” said Michael W. Robinson, executive vice president of Levick, a public relations firm based in Washington. Shares closed on Friday at $73.03, well above the $45 range when Mr. Dach was hired.

Mr. Dach was a Clinton aide who went on to run the Washington office of the public relations firm Edelman. At Edelman, he advised Wal-Mart executives on strategy, including a surprising speech in 2005 in which H. Lee Scott, then the chief executive, said Wal-Mart was going to become more environmentally friendly.

 When Mr. Dach began working with Wal-Mart, he said in an interview on Friday, Wal-Mart wanted “to open itself up to those who it might’ve kept at arm’s length before.” Until then, the company largely closed ranks when it was criticized, and unions, environmentalists and other foes were creating ever-louder opposition to the company.

 Mr. Dach steered Wal-Mart toward setting energy-reduction goals, pushed some of its vendors like Procter Gamble to redesign products to make them more environmentally friendly, and added more sustainable products, like fluorescent bulbs and concentrated detergent.

On the environmental front, the company has not met all of its goals — Mr. Scott wanted 100 percent of store waste to be diverted from landfills, and 80 percent now is — but it has made progress. While critics say Wal-Mart is, by definition, environmentally unfriendly — as a brand-new big-box store selling disposable goods largely from overseas — others say its size can force real change.

 And on other issues, like selling $4 generic prescriptions and healthier food, and donating to hunger prevention and veterans and women’s causes, it has gained allies, including Michelle Obama and the World Wildlife Fund.

Labor groups continue to criticize Wal-Mart for unfair wages and poor labor practices overseas, among other issues. The Mexico inquiry continues to loom over the company, and Wal-Mart was shown to be using suppliers in a Bangladesh factory where a fire killed more than 100 workers in November.

 John Podesta, chairman of the Center for American Progress and a longtime friend, said Mr. Dach “has had a career both on the civil-society side and in the business world, and I think he wants to do a little bit more of the former.”

 Mr. Dach, whose compensation is not disclosed, said he was looking forward to avoiding the commute from Washington to Bentonville, Ark., which he now makes weekly. He will continue consulting for Wal-Mart, its chief executive, Michael T. Duke, said in a note to employees.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/09/business/man-who-helped-image-of-wal-mart-steps-down.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Virginia’s Feast on U.S. Funds Nears an End

While the rest of the country experienced a corrosive recession, unemployment in Arlington County, home of the Pentagon, never rose above 5 percent. Nearby Fairfax County, with a cyberintelligence industry that took off after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, gorged on government contracts to private companies.

“It was easy, and people got comfortable,” said Stephen S. Fuller of George Mason University, an expert on the regional economy. “They haven’t come to terms with the fact it isn’t going to be as easy.”

The Washington metropolitan area, especially Northern Virginia, is in line to experience the largest economic hit of any region from the $85 billion in spending cuts that President Obama made official late Friday.

Because the automatic cuts, known as sequestration, fall unevenly across the country, many Americans are greeting them with a shrug. Their nonchalance is heightened because the 2.4 percent lopped from a federal budget of $3.55 trillion is relatively small and will not happen all at once. Moreover, Congressional Republicans have accused the White House of exaggerating the impact for political gain.

But in Northern Virginia the cuts will be deeply felt, economists said, assuming there is no political deal to undo them, a dimming prospect. The White House said the Defense Department would furlough 90,000 civilian employees based in Virginia, the most of any state, reducing their salaries by 20 percent this year.

The ripple effect, as those employees pare expenses, put off car purchases and delay buying a home, is expected to be large. Some economists predict that Virginia will slip into recession.

“No more movies, no more out-to-dinners, no more fun,” Robin Roberts, a civilian budget employee in the Defense Department, said as she waited for the 595 outside the Pentagon for the ride home. She and her husband, who is retired, have canceled their summer vacation. They switched to a cheaper phone plan. “It’s just pay the mortgage, pay the utilities, no more frills.”

Americans far from Washington who say government spending is reckless and unsustainable may not shed a tear for its suburban counties, 6 of which are among the 10 richest in the country, according to the census. But that prosperity has largely rained down on government contractors; federal employees, especially younger ones, depend on their middle-class wages.

“Most of my paycheck goes toward child care,” said Sarah Stein, another rider of the 595. “We’ve cut out what we can cut, and we’re going to be in trouble.”

Ms. Stein’s husband lost a job two years ago and now works for much less repairing automobile wheels. Ms. Stein said she earned $64,000 in a civilian Pentagon job and pays $24,000 in child care for her two daughters, ages 3 years and 10 months.

The Pentagon has told civilian employees to plan on taking 22 days off without pay. Ms. Stein said she would not be able to save on child care even on the days she is home. “We still have to pay for five days a week, whether we go or not,” she said. “People are just very worried.”

The Center for Regional Analysis estimates that federal spending drives 37 percent of the Northern Virginia economy, largely spending on contractors that soared in the past decade.

“It was mostly on the war on terrorism,” said Dr. Fuller, the director of the center. “It was a spending bubble that made this economy grow two percentage points faster than the national economy.”

But as the federal government began cutting back two years ago — with foreign wars winding down and Congressional Republicans fighting spending — a regional slowdown that followed may be a taste of the future.

Virginia employment rose in December by only 0.8 percent, half the growth in the nation as a whole, said Christine Chmura, an economist in Richmond.

“If the sequester occurs as it’s currently stated, I would expect the state of Virginia to go into a recession,” she said.

The Pentagon’s share of the cuts is the largest of any. Robert F. Hale, an under secretary of defense, said on Feb. 20 that the Pentagon would cut $4 billion to $5 billion through civilian furloughs and $40 billion in purchases from the private sector.

Some business owners and people facing furloughs said the cutbacks were manageable, even a good thing. Moe Jafari, whose company Human Touch in McLean does technology work for the military, said he saw a new cost-consciousness in the government that pleased him.

“They’re looking at budgets that are not unlimited,” said Mr. Jafari, whose contracting includes work for the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in Charleston, S.C. “We see the government for the first time having discussions with us in ways we never thought. They’re looking at saving money. They’re starting to act like businesses.”

Even some government employees facing furloughs spoke of the 20 percent dock in salary as a sacrifice to a greater good. “The rest of the country is suffering and needs help; this is the least we can do,” said Mort Anvari, a civilian employee of the Army.

He and others who said they could manage their lower earnings were older, with savings and without children to support.

Mary Ann Fontana, who works for the secretary of the Air Force, said, “We older ones feel — at least I do — to help the country, it’s fine.” But “the real worry are the young ones,” she added, lower on the government pay scale and living paycheck to paycheck.

Matthew Bourke, a public affairs specialist with the Army, fits that description. He is looking for a part-time job to make up the loss to his salary. “I’m talking the restaurant business, a server, a food runner, anything,” he said.

“If you know something, let me know,” he said before jumping on his bus.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/03/us/politics/virginias-feast-on-us-funds-nears-an-end.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Media Decoder Blog: How Brill’s Health-Care Opus Jumped From The New Republic to Time

As Time Magazine’s 36-page cover story “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills are Killing Us” started to attract a storm of attention online and on television on Thursday, so did the story about how the article’s author Steven Brill came to write it for Time magazine.

In recent weeks, it was well-known in journalism circles that Mr. Brill’s comprehensive look at the health care industry was scheduled to be the cover story for the relaunch of The New Republic on Jan. 28th. (Michael Calderone at The Huffington Post first described the behind-the-masthead intrigue here.) Mr. Brill who has been reporting the story since June said he had agreed to work with The New Republic because he said he was promised by The New Republic’s new owner Chris Hughes that he would invest a lot in promoting that issue and ultimately Mr. Brill’s story.

“When I realized all the good stuff I had, I said ‘Listen this piece is going to be a big deal,’” said Mr. Brill in an interview about his conversations with Mr. Hughes about publishing the article. “Chris Hughes said ‘It’s absolutely going to be the cover. We’re going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on it.”

But when Mr. Brill learned that his story was going to be bumped to The New Republic’s second issue because Mr. Hughes had landed an interview with President Obama, Mr. Brill pitched the article within hours to four other magazines. While The Atlantic, The New York Times and The New Yorker considered the article, Mr. Brill said he ultimately worked with Time because the magazine’s editors agreed to publish the article as a single story, rather than partly online and in print.

Richard Stengel, the managing editor of Time Magazine, said he that while he first had some reservations about Mr. Brill’s story pitch because he thought the article would be “a tough story to read”, he was quick to snap it up once he read it. Mr. Stengel also used the story as a way to experiment with presenting and promoting stories. He said that it was the first time he dedicated an issue to one article and promoted the articles across platforms, like CNN.com and Anderson Cooper 360. He noted that during lunchtime 32,000 people were reading the article at one point.

“This is going to be a famous piece for Steve Brill, a famous piece for Time and nobody is going to care about the provenance,” said Mr. Stengel.

As Mr. Brill managed television interviews and letters from readers on Thursday afternoon, he still questioned the benefit of featuring an article with President Obama on a relaunch issue. Mr. Brill said that when Mr. Hughes described the interview with Mr. Obama, “he must have said Oval Office nine times.” Mr. Brill also remained disappointed that Mr. Hughes promised to place his story on the cover and said “no way” when asked if he would write for The New Republic again.

“No editor needs to make a commitment to someone that your article is going to be on the cover of that magazine. But he made that commitment,” said Mr. Brill. “He did because he wanted to get me to write this for them.”

Franklin Foer, The New Republic’s editor, wrote in an e-mail, “It’s a great piece. I’m sorry that we weren’t able to run it and I’m glad that it ultimately found a home.”

Article source: http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/21/how-brills-health-care-opus-jumped-from-the-new-republic-to-time/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Ben Smith, The Boy Wonder of Buzzfeed

Ben Smith, editor in chief of Buzzfeed, stood to the side and smiled, staring at his iPhone as he swiped through e-mail messages and retweeted something about Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.

What is BenSmithing? To the Republicans who coined the term last year, it refers to writing an article that supposedly tackles a Democratic Party scandal, but is actually intended to dismiss the issue, something they believe Mr. Smith has often done for President Obama.

But to Mr. Smith’s Buzzfeed colleagues, the term has become an absurdist catchall they use to poke fun at their boss. Sometimes BenSmithing is to share dirty pictures over Snapchat. Other times BenSmithing is to dance a clumsy version of the Funky Chicken.

Are any of them true? “I have in fact sent Katie Notopoulos a creepshot on Snapchat,” Mr. Smith said by e-mail the day after the party, referring to his fellow Buzzfeed editor.

Maybe he’s joking. But Mr. Smith, polite and mild-mannered as he is, has been known to shock people before. In December 2011, he announced that he was leaving Politico, the insiderly political site at which he had been a star blogger since 2007, to take the top editorial job at Buzzfeed, a site better known for cat GIFs and dorky “listicles” (articles in list form, like “33 Animals Who Are Extremely Disappointed in You”) than political muckraking.

“It just wasn’t a place for a political reporter to go,” said Josh Benson, a founder of Capital New York, a news site founded by some of Mr. Smith’s former colleagues from The New York Observer.

“But there’s an ‘on the other hand,’ ” Mr. Benson said, “which is that it didn’t surprise me one bit. He’s got that entrepreneurial thing. He’s not content to make the doughnuts.”

Mr. Smith, 36, has long had a reputation for doing things his own way. Before Buzzfeed, he was known for pulling city politics into the digital era with The Politicker, a blog he started for The Observer in 2004. While other print reporters were waiting for deadlines to share the news, Mr. Smith had the then-novel idea of publishing what he knew on the Web and letting readers leave comments, producing a lively and often indecorous forum that transfixed Gotham’s power brokers.

“It’s not just that he did it first, he did it well,” Mr. Benson said.

It’s that forward-thinking mentality that helps add some clarity to the Smith-Buzzfeed marriage. Buzzfeed, which was started in 2006 by Jonah Peretti, a founder of The Huffington Post, operates on the philosophy that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are America’s new front pages and that the content people view online is determined more by what their friends share than what is found on the home page of a news organization. As such, the distinction between Web ephemera like baby videos and traditional journalism has all but disappeared.

Mr. Smith, who was born and raised on the Upper West Side, appears to fit right in so far. He has brought political reporting to Buzzfeed without betraying its signature attitude. The site’s year-end roundup of political stories was titled “The 15 most OMG Buzzfeed Politics Stories of 2012,” and its most popular political post of the year was “A User’s Guide to Smoking Pot with Barack Obama.”

Not that it’s all LOLs and pot smoking. On Mr. Smith’s fourth day with the company, Buzzfeed broke the news that Senator John McCain would endorse his former rival Mitt Romney, a significant scoop in the minute-to-minute world of campaign reporting. And last July, the reporter Rebecca Elliot published a deeply reported investigative article on the conditions at a hospital in Afghanistan that was being financed by the United States government.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/17/fashion/ben-smith-the-boy-wonder-of-buzzfeed.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Obama Focuses on ‘Thriving Middle Class’ in Speech

In his first State of the Union address since winning re-election, Mr. Obama offered an expansive second-term agenda focused heavily on the economy and jobs, according to summaries of his proposals provided to reporters in advance of the speech. He also proposed new reductions in nuclear weapons, announced that the United States would enter into negotiations for a free trade agreement with the European Union, and promised a speedy withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

“It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many and not just the few,” Mr. Obama said, according to a copy of his remarks released ahead of the hourlong speech. “That it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation of ours.”

After delivering an assertive defense of liberal values in his second Inaugural Address last month, on Tuesday Mr. Obama detailed his vision for how to achieve those goals through a federal government that is actively engaged in the well-being of all Americans.

He credited the “grit and determination” of the American people for helping turn the economy around, saying that “we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger.”

The president argued for aggressive federal efforts to lift as many as 15 million people out of poverty by raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour from $7.25 an hour by the end of 2015. He also pushed for new investments in preschool programs as well as math and science education and community colleges to equip workers with new skills.

“Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty,” Mr. Obama said. “This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families. It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank, rent or eviction, scraping by or finally getting ahead.”

Despite raising the hopes of environmental activists in his Inaugural Address by calling for a robust effort to fight climate change, Mr. Obama did not call for a cap on carbon emissions on Tuesday. Instead, he pledged to increase the fuel efficiency of vehicles, double the use of renewable electricity generation and create a new energy security trust that would use oil and gas revenue from federal lands to finance clean energy research.

Immigration advocates had similar expectations about plans to overhaul the immigration system. Mr. Obama has said he favors changes that would eventually allow 11 million illegal immigrants to earn a path to citizenship, which he mentioned in the speech.

The president also urged Congress to approve a $50 billion “Fix It First” program of infrastructure improvements intended to repair and rebuild the roads, bridges and rail lines that are in the worst shape.

Mr. Obama, mindful of the debate over government spending, acknowledged that his agenda would cost money, but he said his proposals would not increase the deficit by “one single dime” because the federal budget would remain below caps that both parties agreed to during negotiations in 2011.

“It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth,” Mr. Obama said.

The president said he remained committed to reducing the budget deficit, but warned Republicans that he would support only what he called “balanced” efforts that included both spending cuts and tax increases, including the closing of tax loopholes for the wealthiest Americans and corporations.

He made it clear that he believed that Washington had already reduced the deficit by $2.5 trillion over a decade, using a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. That is more than halfway toward the $4 trillion goal that he and some Republicans have set. He urged lawmakers to put off the automatic cuts to military and domestic spending to avoid a new economic slump.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/13/us/politics/obama-to-make-his-case-for-government-action.html?partner=rss&emc=rss