Friday, November 18, 2011

Obama claims share of credit for huge Boeing deal

US President Barack Obama Friday claimed a share of the credit as Boeing sealed its largest-ever commercial aircraft order to build 230 jets worth $21.7 billion for Indonesia's Lion Air.

The deal, for 201 737 MAXs and 29 737-900 ERs, bolstered Obama's strategic decision to orient the struggling US economy with booming markets in emerging Asia, which he sees as an engine of US jobs growth for years to come.

Obama officiated at the signing of papers sealing the deal between Boeing and Lion Air, a low-cost regional carrier, before plunging into a day of diplomacy with Southeast Asian leaders on the last leg of a Pacific tour.

"The US administration and the (Export-Import Bank) in particular were critical in facilitating this deal," Obama said, saying such commercial successes were critical to his goal of doubling US exports to speed recovery.

"I want to congratulate Boeing for making outstanding planes, including the one I fly on," Obama said, referring to his iconic presidential 747, at the ceremony on the Indonesian island of Bali attended by top US officials and Lion Air executives.

The president is in town for a Southeast Asian summit as well as Saturday's wider East Asia Summit which he sees as the cornerstone of security engagement with a region where China's rise is provoking searching strategic questions.

Boeing earlier said in a statement that the Lion Air deal would be "the largest commercial airplane order ever in Boeing?s history by both dollar volume and total number of airplanes."

By the face value, it would also be the largest any aircraft maker has received.

The agreement, which will unfold over many years, also includes the option to order another 150 aircraft, which could put the eventual value at $35 billion.

Boeing spokesman Wilson Chow said the sale underscores the strength of the aviation market in the fast-growing Asia-Pacific region.

"According to our outlook, Asia-Pacific is one of our fastest growing markets areas... We're expecting a seven percent growth of traffic per year for the next 20 years," he told AFP.

He declined to give a timeframe for delivery of the aircraft, but noted that the 737 MAX will only be ready for delivery in 2017.

Craig West from Britain-based Airliner World magazine said he suspected the deal was a generational affair.

"This could be over a very long period of time, so that when the last batch begins to be delivered, the first batch are already so old that they are put out of service," he told AFP.

The White House, anxious to tout US successes amid 9.0 percent unemployment as Obama launches his 2012 reelection bid, said the deal would support 110,000 American jobs at Boeing and at suppliers throughout 43 American states.

Officials did not say that the pact would create new jobs, but highlighted other deals, some already announced, including the sale of eight Boeing 777-300ER jets to Singapore Airlines worth $2.4 billion.

Indonesia's Garuda Airlines meanwhile has signed a contract to buy 50 CFM56 General Electric engines worth $1.3 billion, the White House said.

And Sikorsky will sell Brunei 12 Blackhawk S-70i helicopters worth $325 million, the White House said, adding that the total value of all the deals was $25 billion.

The Lion Air deal topped this week's previous record Boeing order. The Chicago-based aircraft maker kicked off the Dubai Airshow with the announcement of an order from Emirates airline for 50 Boeing long-range 777-300ERs worth $18 billion at list price.

At the same show Boeing also sealed a deal with Qatar Airways for two 777 freighters for $560 million.

The Lion Air deal was likely a major victory for Boeing over European rival Airbus.

Aviation Week reported earlier this month that Lion Air had been weighing the US-made 737s against the Airbus 320.

A leading domestic and regional airline but little known internationally, Lion Air is Indonesia's largest private carrier, owned by brothers Kusnan and Rusdi Kirana.

In 2007, Lion Air was among several Indonesian airlines banned by the European Union for lax safety standards.

The ban on flag carrier Garuda Indonesia and several other carriers was lifted in July 2009, but Lion Air still remains on the blacklist.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Heart-healthy program offers slots for 12 local women

The American Heart Association is seeking 12 local women to participate in its BetterU program.

BetterU is an initiative that will chronicle the journeys of these women toward meaningful lifestyle changes that improve their heart health, according to a news release.

The 12-week BetterU Makeover Challenge, sponsored by Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp., is designed to remind all women of the need to make healthy lifestyle choices. It begins Dec. 5 and runs through Feb. 27.

"BetterU is a free online nutrition and fitness program that can help all women to make better lifestyle choices," said Denise VanBuren, vice president of corporate communications at Central Hudson.

Applications are being accepted to be one of the dozen women.

Participants will be featured in the Poughkeepsie Journal and their success will be celebrated at the annual Go Red for Women luncheon on March 2.

Each of the 12 women will receive a three-month membership and personal training at Gold's Gym, a baseline medical evaluation from Health Quest and nutrition coaching from a local dietitian. BetterU participants will have group workouts, food shopping field trips and blog about their progress.

"Best of all, every local woman can access online the same great information to the BetterU program's important heart health information, expert tips, recipes and online journals, so even if you're not one of the 12 women selected, you can still actively participate," VanBuren said. "Our goal is to make heart health a priority for local women. We feel as though we're sponsoring a better us for the Hudson Valley by being involved with BetterU."

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States, taking the life of one in three women — almost one woman every minute, according to the heart association.

"This new BetterU Challenge will help empower local women to make their heart health goals a reality. We hope that women everywhere sign up online and take the challenge themselves," said Tonya Addy, the association's Hudson Valley region executive director.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

7 tips for eating ice cream without feeling guilty

As a summer treat, ice cream is hard to beat. But it also can be a vehicle for unhealthful fat and calories if you don't watch the quality and quantity of what you consume.

Fortunately, many manufacturers have been churning out lighter fare that offers lower fat and fewer calories per serving without sacrificing much of the taste and texture that make ice cream so appealing. And alternatives such as frozen yogurt, sorbet, water ice, fruit bars and sherbet can bridge the gap for people determined not to pass up the simple pleasure of frozen treats.

For many, ice cream is as American as apple pie and baseball. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan declared July National Ice Cream month and designated the third Sunday of the month National Ice Cream Day.

Visiting the local ice cream parlor is "very much a part of the American tradition," said Mary Leopold, co-owner of 92-year-old Leopold's Ice Cream in Savannah, Ga. "It's an experience that's multigenerational to this day.

"Even in this economy that has hit so hard, it's a way that people can still feel like they can have something special," she said.

Of course, as with any dessert, few people can afford to indulge in ice cream frequently without giving some thought to weight and overall health management.
The alternatives may not be better for you

People who have diabetes should count total carbohydrates and be careful when substituting fruity frozen treats for ice cream, said Melissa Joy Dobbins, a registered dietician in Chicago and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. That's because many sherbets and sorbets contain more sugar per serving than ice cream, even though they often have less fat.

"It's good to watch your fat and saturated fat because you're at such an increased risk for heart disease when you have diabetes," she said. "At the same time, you don't want that trade-off to be more sugar."

Still, regular ice cream is useful for women who develop gestational diabetes while pregnant, a condition that's typically temporary but serious. By eating two-thirds of a cup of ice cream before going to bed, they're better able to stabilize their blood sugar overnight, said Dobbins, also a prenatal diabetes educator at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, Ill.

For some taste purists who consume it in moderation or aren't concerned about health risks, premium products are still the way to go. And a taste test that Consumer Reports conducted and published last July supports that choice. Trained testers surveyed 24 kinds of vanilla and chocolate ice cream, including fat free, light and premium full-fat brands. Among the seven rated excellent were full-fat flavors from Ben & Jerry's and Haagen-Dazs. Target's Archer Farms Belgian chocolate also earned a top rating.
Tips for eating ice cream in a healthier way

If you're planning to enjoy ice cream, medical and nutrition experts advise heeding these tips:

1. Try nonfat, low-fat, reduced-fat or light products, which can save you calories and fat intake over time. There are subtle distinctions between these labels, as regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Ice cream that claims to be "light" has to have half the fat or one-third fewer calories than regular ice cream. "Low fat" products are limited to no more than three grams of fat per serving. About 26% of the ice-cream market is comprised of nonfat or low-fat products, according to the International Dairy Foods Association, so chances are good you’ll find these options at your local grocery store.
2.Switch to individually wrapped ice-cream treats. You're still at risk for overdoing it if you go back for more, but at least you can slow yourself down and get a better understanding of portion sizes. Weight Watchers offers ice cream bars such as dark chocolate raspberry, which boast 80 calories per bar.
3.Read the nutrition panel and not just the front of the packaging to factor in the nutritional value. For example, as a dairy product, ice cream offers varying amounts of calcium, which the body needs to build strong bones. Alternative treats such as fruit bars may offer vitamin C, but people often need calcium more and don't get enough of it in their daily diet, Dobbins said. Calcium content is easy to find on the box or online. Skinny Cow low-fat ice cream cones, for example, have 150 calories and three grams of fat. They also deliver a calcium boost that's a whopping 20% of the recommended daily value for a 2,000-calorie daily diet. Nestle Drumstick Li'l Drums contain about 110 to 120 calories per cone but pack less of a calcium punch.
4.Measure to prevent double dipping. If you want to stick with the traditional tub of ice cream, measure how much you're scooping out. You don't have to do it every time, but discovering how many servings you might be loading onto a cone or into a bowl could make you more conservative, Dobbins said.
5.Pick your toppings wisely. Choose items for maximum nutrition and avoid nutrient-poor, high-calorie add-ons such as candy, cookies, syrup and caramel. Consider reducing the amount of ice cream and upping the amount of fruit and nut toppings, Dobbins suggested. "That would still cut back on the calories and definitely cut back on saturated fat, but it would provide more nutrition and satisfaction. You're not just taking something away but putting something back in."
6.Choose a dish over a cone. The additional calories from cones can add up. Cake cones are the least caloric, worth about 15 to 20 calories a piece. But sugar cones typically have around 50 calories and waffle cones range 50 to 90 calories.
7.Don't deny yourself completely. Extreme deprivation often backfires, Dr. Jeffrey Levine, a family doctor in New Brunswick, N.J., and a professor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said in an email. "Encouraging moderation and promoting healthier frozen-treat options is far more effective than telling patients to avoid ice cream and other frozen treats all together. Those who try the latter are often the ones found downing a whole pint of Ben & Jerry's or Haagen-Dazs once they get stressed or frustrated." Levine, who lost 183 pounds and appeared on the TV show "The Biggest Loser" in 2005, said his family's freezer contains low-calorie, low-fat ice cream in addition to 40-calorie, low-sugar fudge bars and 15-calorie popsicles. 

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Quick tips for minor health emergencies

The last thing you want to do while on vacation is make a trip to a medical clinic or, heaven forbid, the emergency room.

Some vacation activities such as hiking or mountain biking contain risks of minor medical emergencies. But even a weekend camping trip can result in unforeseen medical problems.

"There's always sunburn, dehydration and food poisoning potentially," said La Vone Sopher, ARNP, FNP, at The Clinic at Wal-Mart at 3400 Singing Hills Drive, an affiliate of the St. Luke's Health System.

With a little planning and a lot of common sense, many minor medical emergencies can be prevented, Sopher said.

"Think about what activities you're going to be doing, think about what could happen and take the right stuff along," she said. "If you're going to go hiking, don't wear flip-flops."

Sopher had plenty of prevention and treatment advice for the most common vacation mishaps she sees.


If possible, swim in a swimming pool. Water in rivers and lakes may look clean, but it's full of bacteria and microbes. Swimmer's ear, an inflammation, and sometimes infection, of the ear canal, can result from swimming in any type of water.

Wear ear plugs or get a bottle of over-the-counter swimmer's ear drops. Using the drops after you're done swimming helps dry your ears out.


If you're boating or spending the day along the shore, the combination of wind and water puts you more at risk. Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat and other clothing to reduce sun exposure.

If you do get burned, stay out of the sun and wear loose clothing. Aloe vera lotion, various over-the-counter sprays or cool compresses can help take the sting out of the burn.

Heat illness

Symptoms usually include feeling really hot and tired. Getting out of the sun and drinking water or sports drinks will usually make you feel better.

If you're going to be out in the sun and heat all day, drink at least 64 ounces of water or sports drink during the day. Don't drink soft drinks or alcoholic beverages, the caffeine and alcohol can lead to dehydration.

Bee stings

Many bees leave their stingers in. If you've been stung, pull the stinger out with tweezers or use the edge of a credit card to scrape it out. Clean the area with soap and water.

If you're allergic to bee stings, make sure you carry EpiPen, or epinephrine, to counter a severe allergic reaction.


Apply cold water or an ice pack to the burned area to stop the heat process on the skin. If the burned skin blisters, leave it alone. Popping the blister can lead to infection.

Rashes from poison ivy, oak or sumac

Once you notice a rash, wash the area with soap and water to remove the plant resin. A cold compress can take away the itch or use calamine lotion or other over-the-counter, anti-itch creams. If you have a rash, don't scratch it. The resin can get under your nails and then spread to other areas of your body when you touch them. Wear long pants if you're out hiking in the woods. It doesn't hurt to tuck the pants into your socks.

Food poisoning

Keep food cold if it's supposed to be cold. If it looks or smells suspicious, throw it away. Wash your hands often. Don't drink water from mountain streams or other untreated outdoor sources.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Break your habits with expert tips

Experts reveal their tips for breaking common habits:


We all know the virtues of exercise but many of us fail to make it a long-term commitment. Health and the City author Caitlin Reid says it is often because of unrealistic goals, which only encourage failure.

"We then feel guilty about our slip-ups, and instead of getting back on the bike, we resort back to our old ways and forget about our well-meaning goals," she says.

Don't be vague with a "start exercising more" goal. A better one could be 30 minutes, three days each week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, starting on Monday, June 20, Caitlin recommends.

"Gradually increase your duration, frequency and intensity but only increase one at a time so that you don't overdo it. Push yourself too hard and you'll drop off," she says.

And find activities that suit you. "If you prefer being around people, then a group personal training session or a team sport is going to appeal more than a run on a treadmill."


If you've fallen into the habit of having a few too many wines after work, look at setting some reduction targets, counsellor Carolyn Midwood suggests.

Halve the number of wines you would usually have in an evening, or even attempt some alcohol-free days.

If the problem is when socialising with friends, she recommends catching up at a cafe instead of a hotel or even organising breakfast dates.

"By mixing things up a bit, you will get a different outcome," she says.

"Create new routines. Preparation, practice and commitment are essential, so you need to think about what it actually is that you wish to change, why you want to change, make the decision to change, and act on that decision."


It is common to procrastinate over dull tasks, but what if it is a goal we truly want?

Domonique Bertolucci, author of Your Best Life, says people often break off more than they can chew, creating an impossibly huge to-do list.

"They're not going to be able to do that in a lifetime, let alone in a day or in a week, so your subconscious recognises you're going to fail and loses all motivation and energy for it," she says.

If it all seems overwhelming, try visualisation. The Procrastination Equation author Piers Steel recommends starting by sitting quietly and thinking about the life you want.

Focus on just one aspect, such as your career or a healthy body. Concentrate on this image, or use a diary or collage of images to bring it to life. Then mentally contrast this future with where you are now.

"Focus on the gap. Put the same emphasis on vividly reflecting on this discrepancy as you did on imagining your idealised future," Domonique says.


Convinced cigarettes help alleviate anxiety and depression? Research suggests otherwise. A study from Rhode Island's Brown University found that smokers who abstained for the whole research period were the happiest.

Those who quit temporarily were happy while they were successful but, once they started smoking again, they reported feeling sadder than before.

Tellingly, those who never stopped during the trial were the least happy of all.
Carolyn Midwood's DIY practical tips:
• Look at why you smoke and why you want to stop
• Plan for what you can do when the urge to light up occurs
• Plan a healthy eating and exercise regime to prevent any weight gain

• If you think that alcohol increases the risk of smoking, then limit your intake or abstain.


Your moods could be the driving force behind those extra kilos. According to the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, sad people try to repair their bad mood with unhealthy food - which they then overeat, whereas happy people eat healthy food to maintain their pleasant mood.

Weight-management expert Rick Kausman, author of If Not Dieting, Then What? says there is not a lack of knowledge about eating more fruit and vegetables, but rather a lack of awareness about eating without being hungry.

Think how many times you have stood in front of the fridge, just for something to do.

"It's amazing how much eating people do that they're not being mindful of. It's good to say to yourself, 'I can have it, but do I really feel like it?'

"Just saying that gives them a bit of a pause to think 'you know what, I was walking past the kitchen and I was going to put that in my mouth just because it was there'."

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Stay Healthy and Safe during Summer Heat

Hot, humid weather is a hallmark of summer in Tennessee. Since it’s not always possible to stay out of the heat, the Department of Health is offering simple tips to help reduce your risk of seasonal illness during the hot summer months.

Temperatures that soar into the 90s and beyond raise the risk for heat-related illness. Heat-related illnesses include heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat rash. Signs of heat-related illness include dizziness, heavy sweating, muscle cramps, rapid heart beat, nausea, headaches and cold/clammy skin.

“Heat-related illnesses can be deadly, and they sicken people and claim lives every year even though these problems are preventable,” said Health Commissioner Susan R. Cooper, MSN, RN. “We urge Tennesseans to make smart choices about their exposure to extreme heat. Try to avoid going outside during the hottest part of the day, and be sure never to leave anyone unattended in a car.”

It’s important to take steps to protect the very young and the elderly, who are at greater risk for health problems caused by extreme heat. People with chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and lung disease are also at an increased risk of heat-related illnesses.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a few simple steps to avoid these preventable heat-related illnesses.

* Drink plenty of fluids. Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink. Remember to consume non-alcoholic, low-sugar drinks in hot weather.
* Replace salt and minerals. Heavy sweating can deplete your body’s salt and minerals. Non-alcoholic drinks, like sports drinks, can help you replenish these reserves.
* Wear appropriate clothing and sunscreen. Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, as well as a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection. Wear SPF 15 or higher sunblock every day.
* Schedule outdoor activities carefully. Try to limit outdoor activity to morning and evening hours with rest breaks in shady areas, if available. UV rays are strongest and do the most damage during midday hours.
* Pace yourself. If you are not accustomed to working or exercising in a hot environment, start slowly and increase effort gradually. If your heart is pounding or you are gasping for breath, stop the activity and rest in a cool, shady area.
* Stay cool indoors. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the mall or library to get cool. Cool showers or baths, and keeping your stove and oven off are other ways to cool down inside.
* Use the buddy system. Partner with a friend and watch each other for signs of heat-related illness. Senior citizens are more susceptible, so if you know someone over age 65, check on him or her over the phone twice a day.

Heat stroke is the most life-threatening heat-related illness. Each year, about 400 people nationwide die from heat stroke. Heat stroke occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature, which rises quickly without the ability to cool down. If emergency treatment is not provided, heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability. Symptoms include body temperature above 103 degrees Fahrenheit; red, hot and dry skin without sweating; rapid, strong pulse; throbbing headache; dizziness; nausea; confusion and loss of consciousness.

Call for immediate medical help if you believe you are or another person is experiencing heat stroke. Do not give the victim any fluids to drink. While waiting on emergency assistance, get the victim to a shady area, cool him or her rapidly using cool water and monitor body temperature until it reaches 101 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tips for eating healthfully from a vending machine

While the first tip to eating healthfully usually includes staying away from vending machines, this time it's a little different.

There are about a dozen vending machine companies offering a healthy alternative for those who eat on the run, and one of them is already selling its products in Central New Jersey and Bucks County, PA. Its name is Fresh Healthy Vending, a San Diego franchise operation that offers fresh fruits, natural drinks, yogurts, soy pudding, granola and smoothies as part of its selection.

We can expect to see more companies like this one approaching school districts directly thanks to a new law, regulating schools that participate in the federal school lunch program. The new guidelines enable the Agriculture Department to impose nutritional standards on all snacks and refreshments sold in schools. These guidelines are likely to benefit companies that offer healthy alternatives on its vending machines.

Hopeful of this vision, here are a few things to keep in mind when making a selection on a revamped vending machine:

Determine if you are thirsty or hungry: This might seem obvious, but often people max-out on high caloric snacks, when in fact they are dehydrated and needing liquids.

Select fruits and vegetables first: They contain the strongest nutritional punch and are usually highest in fiber and lowest in calories.

Keep your snack at 100 calories max: Pay attention to the number of servings. You many need to share it with a friend or save it for later.

Choose water over flavored water and flavored water over soft drinks: Consider an unsweetened iced tea, milk or soymilk. Opt for a flavored water if you are craving a sweet drink.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The New Speed of Politics in 2012

President Barack Obama's formal declaration of his re-election bid Monday actually serves as a reminder that the 2012 campaign is off to such a slow start that it has shattered one piece of conventional wisdom: the notion that each presidential sweepstakes starts earlier than the last one.

Instead, although both parties expect a still-wheezing economy to produce a highly competitive race, the second quarter of 2011 has dawned without a single officially declared candidate on the Republican side. At this time four years ago, by contrast, the top three Republican candidates had raised collectively some $50 million, and the top three Democratic contenders had been running for several months.

America doesn't need longer presidential campaigns, so this isn't a bad thing for the country. Moreover, the Republican contenders are coming, and soon. But the reasons the race is slow to form say a lot about the times and the state of politics—as well as the ways that technology and pervasive communications are changing the process.

Conversations with advisers to several potential candidates suggest that the first reason for the slow ramp-up is a basic one: The coming campaign isn't for an open seat in the White House, but rather will be a race against an incumbent president.

For Republicans, the idea of running against a sitting president, even one who may seem vulnerable, is far more daunting than running to take over an empty seat, and doubtless has given some candidates—think Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels—reason to pause and ponder.

Other factors have to do with the unique political climate of 2011. Last year's midterm elections produced a Republican wave that enabled the party to take back the House of Representatives and to eliminate the Democrats' filibuster-proof Senate majority. The big event in the party became reclaiming a share of power in Washington now, not starting on an election two years hence.

One Republican campaign operative says that after the 2010 election "there wasn't a lot of political oxygen in the party for candidates to break through with interesting messages or a startling program." It seemed wise to let House GOP leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor, and new Republican governors, be the party leaders for a while.

Moreover, some Republican operatives argue that the 2008 campaign showed that starting early doesn't really offer much of an advantage, and may be a disadvantage.

An early start didn't get Hillary Clinton the Democratic nomination, and early Republican front-runner John McCain flamed out and had to basically resurrect his campaign from the ashes before he prevailed. Notably, the GOP Iowa caucuses were won not by one of the big early juggernaut candidates, but by the underfinanced Mike Huckabee.

"If you look at the results last cycle it's hard to argue that being early or being big was much of an advantage," says Alex Conant, an adviser to former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

At the same time, some of most notable Republican possibilities—Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Mr. Daniels in Indiana in particular—are sitting governors who argue they need to tend to their states' pressing budget business before turning to presidential politics. At a minimum, it might appear unseemly to jump in before taking care of the home front.

But the most intriguing force behind the campaign's pace lies in the way technology has changed the art and practice of both campaigning and fund-raising.

A combination of Facebook, Twitter and other online organizing tools, along with perches on the Fox News Network and other cable outlets, have given Sarah Palin, in particular, and Mr. Huckabee and Newt Gingrich plenty of exposure that allows them to gather supporters and organize virtually without having to formally declare. This new reality also gives Ms. Palin and Mr. Huckabee an incentive to continue earning money from TV contracts while waiting to decide.

Perhaps as important, the Internet is a fund-raising tool that allows candidates to quickly scoop up large amounts of money, if they strike a spark with voters, without having to rely as much on the traditional, time-consuming slog through fund-raising events night after night.

It's hard to know for sure who might benefit most from the new dynamic. It may well help former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the perceived front-runner, by allowing him to stay above the fray and out of the line of fire longer. And it seems to be benefiting Mr. Pawlenty, who's taking advantage of the extra time and space to quietly line up support in the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Like all twists in the political game, this delayed start doubtless comes with less-obvious consequence, easier to see at the end of the road than the beginning.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Five senators push Obama to do more in Libya

A leading critic of the Vietnam War, Senator Kerry now chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Kerry, who has remained personally engaged in Middle East politics, describes the events unfolding in the Middle East as a “new Arab awakening” and a “huge blow to extremism.”

As with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the challenge to US foreign policy is to usher these nations into a new world, he says. “So how we respond today – right now – will, in my judgment, shape our strategic position in the entire Middle East, and how Muslims around the world see us going forward, probably for decades to come,” he told the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on March 16.

In the past, the US addiction to oil and its fight against terrorism overshadowed the values of democracy and human rights, Kerry said, but now, the US must encourage governments to respond to the hopes and needs of their people.

The goal of the mission in Libya is limited to saving lives, not necessarily getting rid of a tyrant, he said.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Christie beats Obama in "thermometer' poll

Governor Chris Christie is hot.

Not lie-out-on-the-beach hot, but hot enough to beat out President Barack Obama by a half a degree, according to a Quinnipiac University national thermometer poll released today.

The poll, conducted by asking respondents to rate individuals on a 0-to-100-degree "feeling thermometer'' show that first lady Michelle Obama and former President Bill Clinton are the hottest of the political types, with temperatures of 60.1 and 59.2 degrees respectively. But Christie comes in number three with a respectable 57 degrees, followed by Obama at 56.5.

The only drawback to Christie's rating is that 55 percent of the respondents did not know enough about the New Jersey governor to rate him. This was opposed to 4 percent for Michelle Obama, 2 percent for Clinton and 0 percent for the president.

The next Republican on the list is Rudy Giuliani at 52.3 percent, followed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, House Speaker John Boehner and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, all of whom topped 50 degrees.

"New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie has ruled out running for president next year despite the urging of many Republicans, but he has clearly made a positive impression on the American people, at least the half who are familiar with him,'' Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said in a prepared release. "It is important to remember that this measure is not any kind of presidential trial heat, but it does reflect how voters feel about national figures, including politicians.''

The lowest three on the hot list? Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin at 38.2 degrees, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at 34.8 and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at 32.9. Palin is a Republican, and Reid and Pelosi are Democrats.

The survey was conducted from Feb. 21 to 28. A total of 1,887 registered voters were polled by phone. The poll has a margin of error of 2.3 percentage points.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The End of Fannie Mae

It's enough to make you believe in miracles: The Obama Administration is now on record as saying that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should go out of business. It took a global financial panic and $140 billion in taxpayer losses, but on Friday there it was in black-and-white in the U.S. Treasury's report to Congress on reforming the mortgage market: The Administration will "ultimately . . . wind down both institutions."

This marks a break with decades of bipartisan support and protection for the two government-sponsored giants of mortgage finance. Fannie Mae has its roots in the Roosevelt Administration, and a phalanx of bankers, mortgage lenders, homebuilders and Realtors worked together to keep the companies growing and federal mortgage subsidies flowing. Now even some Democrats—though not yet those on Capitol Hill—admit their business model was a catastrophe waiting to happen.

Under the Administration's proposals, Fan and Fred wind down over five to seven years. The two mortgage giants would, in effect, gradually price themselves out of the mortgage finance market by raising guarantee prices and down payment requirements, while lowering the size of the mortgages they could securitize and guarantee. This sounds like a plausible set of first steps to lure private capital back into the mortgage market, where some 92% of all new mortgages are currently underwritten or guaranteed by the government.

The $5 trillion question, however, is what would replace Fan and Fred. And here the Obama Administration has punted, offering the "pros and cons" of three broad proposals without endorsing any one of them.

Door No. 1 is the best of the lot by our lights. Under this option, federal guarantees would be limited to Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans for lower-income buyers and VA assistance for veterans and farm programs—each a narrowly targeted market segment. A Treasury official says this would reduce the taxpayer backstop over time to about 10% to 15% of the mortgage market.

The Administration puts the case for federal withdrawal from the broader housing market in compelling terms: "The strength of this option is that it would minimize distortions in capital allocation across sectors, reduce moral hazard in mortgage lending and drastically reduce direct taxpayer exposure to private lenders' losses." Bravo.

Treasury points to other benefits: "With less incentive to invest in housing, more capital will flow into other areas of the economy, potentially leading to more long-run economic growth and reducing the inflationary pressure on housing assets. Risk throughout the system may also be reduced, as private actors will not be as inclined to take on excessive risk without the assurance of a government guarantee behind them. And finally, direct taxpayer risk exposure to private losses in the mortgage market would be limited to the loans guaranteed by FHA and other narrowly targeted government loan programs: no longer would taxpayers be at direct risk for guarantees covering most of the nation's mortgages."

Those two paragraphs more or less sum up 20 years of Journal editorials on housing.

So what's not to like? The Administration says this option could reduce access to credit for some home buyers, and that it would leave the government without the tools to intervene in a future crisis. As for the credit point, other countries have high rates of home ownership with far less government support. If the government stands aside, it would open the way for alternative forms of finance, such as covered bonds, that now can't compete in the U.S. because of government favoritism for the 30-year mortgage model. This would open options for borrowers by increasing the diversity of financing.

As for a future crisis, government intervention is less likely to be needed if the market isn't distorted by government subsidies in the first place.

Behind Door No. 2 is a rump Fan or Fred, one that would stay small in "normal" times but stand ready to step in with Uncle Sam's firepower in a future housing-finance crisis. But as the Administration acknowledges, it would be difficult both to stay small and retain the capacity to go large when needed. We'd add that the political pressure to expand any federal mortgage-lending program would be too great for lawmakers to resist. Within a generation, the winding down of Fan and Fred would be unwound.

But the greatest danger lies behind Door No. 3, which looks like Fannie in a new suit. Under this last option, the Administration envisages a group of tightly regulated, well-capitalized private mortgage insurers whose policies would be backstopped by government reinsurance. The government would charge premiums for this insurance, "which would be used to cover future claims and recoup losses to protect taxpayers." This reintroduces the lethal mix of private profit and public risk by other means.

The problem with Fan and Fred from the beginning was not—despite the Administration's claims—that the profit motive corrupted their benign goals. Rather, the political influence and financial power of the housing lobby ensured that the companies operated outside the normal rules of politics and financial discipline. Thanks to an implicit government guarantee, the market never put any limit on their growth, even as their liabilities climbed into the trillions. Few politicians had the nerve to challenge a housing lobby that would attack them for opposing home ownership. The same political flaws would afflict a future reinsurer and its coterie of putatively private insurers.

The power of the housing lobby is implicit even in the Treasury's refusal to pick a preferred reform. As with entitlement reform, the Administration is leaving the hard work to House Republicans, who will bear the brunt of the political blowback. A reasonable GOP fear is that the Administration, whatever its rhetoric now, will pounce with a veto when it's politically advantageous—in, say, 2012.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Not one question about illegal immigration during O’Reilly/Obama interview

On Sunday, Fox News aired the much-advertised Bill O’Reilly interview with President Obama. The host of The Factor asked Obama about the ongoing unrest in Egypt, the healthcare bill and even if it bothered the president that “so many people hate” him?

However, O’Reilly failed to mention the looming elephant in the room…illegal immigration and the threat now posed to this country from the drug cartels.

Of course, it is undoubtedly an uncomfortable subject for Obama and it may have been deemed ‘off limits’ for the interview to take place.

Here are the questions that this reporter would have asked:

1) Your Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, continues to say there is no “spillover violence” in this country from Mexico’s drug cartels. However, about 300 kidnappings are reported in Phoenix annually, and Americans are being murdered by drug smugglers. Most recently, Arizona rancher Rob Krentz and Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry were killed on U.S. soil.

So, in light of these occurrences…How can your administration continue to claim that Americans are not at risk from any “spillover violence?”

2) Last year, Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, announced the “We Can Help” campaign designed to protect day laborers, even if they are illegal aliens. Solis sys the agency added 250 field investigators to enforce labor laws, but will not report those here illegally to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

With actual unemployment in this country at 17 percent…How can you possibly justify such an effort?

3) During your recent State of the Union speech, you said: “I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration. I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows.”

However, federal law already dictates that we “protect our borders.”

We simply don’t do it.

The invasion of this country by the violent Mexican drug cartels and the hellish life they have created for those Americans living in the American Southwest presents a clear and present danger, and is one that only the U.S. military can adequately answer.

Why when we use our military to protect the borders of countries such South Korea and Iraq, can’t we use those same active duty troops to protect our own country?

4) In 2006, Congress passed and President Bush signed into law, the Secure Fence Act was supposed to see to it that 700 miles of double-layered, barbed wire fence was built along the U.S./Mexican border, along with more vehicle barriers and manned checkpoints, only about 30 miles of the double-layered, 14-foot high fencing has actually been built.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, only 34.3 miles of double-layered fencing has been completed along the border. Most of that, (13.5 miles), is in Texas, with 11.8 miles in California and a mere 9.1 miles of double-layer fencing now sits along the border in Arizona.

In fact, in early 2009, the Government Accountability Office reported that only 32 miles of double-layered fencing had been constructed. As Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) pointed out in a May 2010 Human Events op-ed: “That means under President Obama, only 2.3 miles of it has been built over an entire year.”

Why have you stopped building the fence that would greatly improve our security?

5) Because the federal government has refused to defend the border and enforce immigration laws, there are about states around the country are now enacting their own legislation to do so.

Do you plan on suing those states, along with Arizona?

6) Finally, Mr. President, I have to tell you that I sort through dozens of crimes committed by illegal aliens on a daily basis. Those crimes include DUIs, child molestation, rape and murder.

I have also spoken to many Americans who have lost family members at the hands of criminal aliens, many of whom tell me they no longer recognize their own country, and cannot understand why the federal government allows millions of illegal aliens to remain here.

What would you say to those folks?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Obama's health care law may boil down to a single judge

Four federal judges have reviewed President Obama's health care law and split evenly on whether it is constitutional -- now four appeals courts get their chance.

Millions of voters have offered their views of the health care plan, and so have 535 members of Congress.

In the end, the fate of Obama's signature domestic program may well boil down to a single person: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

"Nothing matters in the federal courts until Anthony Kennedy flips his magic coin," writes the Ace of Spades HQ blog. MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, a lawyer and a former congressman, said this morning, "It's going to come down to Anthony Kennedy."

Many observers, including some in the White House, expect health care lawsuits to wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court and suspect it could wind up being one of those 5-4 decisions.

Supporters of the health care law have high hopes for four Democrat-appointed justices: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Opponents of what they call "Obamacare" count on four Republican-appointed conservatives: Chief Justice John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

That leaves Justice Kennedy, a Ronald Reagan appointee who often decides 5-4 cases.

Congressional Republicans say they will maintain efforts to repeal the health care law or at least undercut its funding.

Health care will probably play a major political role when President Obama seeks re-election in 2012 -- perhaps the same year the Supreme Court takes up the health care case.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Obama's Words Must Now Become Action

President Barack Obama last night articulated a coherent and necessary vision for how to exploit the still-abundant strengths of the American economy and get them working to create millions of jobs.

After the torturous positioning that filled out the weeks leading up to the speech, the analysis of Obama's supposed new penchant for the center and his pandering to business interests, this was the sort of speech that a nation still hungering for an encouraging future needed to hear.

His words aimed for and found the space above the partisan divide in which presumably all key constituencies can benefit: If we invest strategically to nurture broad-based economic growth, that should generate jobs for factory workers and office-dwellers alike. It should increase orders for auto parts, software and catering. And, yes, a growing economy should create more dealmaking opportunities for Wall Street -- a fine thing, provided it delivers finance to productive parts of the economy that will use it to churn out goods and services of real value.

There is simply no constituency that loses when the economy grows. This was the unspoken fact at the heart of the president's speech.

But words, of course, are something short of action, and it was hard to listen to this speech without wondering: What took so long? How could we have gone two years into an administration that began in the midst of the most punishing economic downturn since the Depression, before the president -- a man elected in large part on the strength of his empathy and understanding -- laid out this kind of vision?

Most important, will he manage to navigate a typically dysfunctional political system to find the dollars required to turn this vision into action? Let us hope so.

It was particularly encouraging to hear the president touch on the need to boost American fortunes in the global economy in a way that focused on available solutions. Rather than blame job losses and decline on China and India -- convenient and typically misleading scapegoats in too many narratives -- Obama noted that their gains have come in part because of successful nation-building, an emphasis on broadening access to education and building out infrastructure in a way that boosts commerce.

President Barack Obama last night articulated a coherent and necessary vision for how to exploit the still-abundant strengths of the American economy and get them working to create millions of jobs.

After the torturous positioning that filled out the weeks leading up to the speech, the analysis of Obama's supposed new penchant for the center and his pandering to business interests, this was the sort of speech that a nation still hungering for an encouraging future needed to hear.

His words aimed for and found the space above the partisan divide in which presumably all key constituencies can benefit: If we invest strategically to nurture broad-based economic growth, that should generate jobs for factory workers and office-dwellers alike. It should increase orders for auto parts, software and catering. And, yes, a growing economy should create more dealmaking opportunities for Wall Street -- a fine thing, provided it delivers finance to productive parts of the economy that will use it to churn out goods and services of real value.

There is simply no constituency that loses when the economy grows. This was the unspoken fact at the heart of the president's speech.

But words, of course, are something short of action, and it was hard to listen to this speech without wondering: What took so long? How could we have gone two years into an administration that began in the midst of the most punishing economic downturn since the Depression, before the president -- a man elected in large part on the strength of his empathy and understanding -- laid out this kind of vision?

Most important, will he manage to navigate a typically dysfunctional political system to find the dollars required to turn this vision into action? Let us hope so.

It was particularly encouraging to hear the president touch on the need to boost American fortunes in the global economy in a way that focused on available solutions. Rather than blame job losses and decline on China and India -- convenient and typically misleading scapegoats in too many narratives -- Obama noted that their gains have come in part because of successful nation-building, an emphasis on broadening access to education and building out infrastructure in a way that boosts commerce.

We cannot force China to alter their exchange-rate policy, which effectively makes their goods unfairly cheap on world markets and costs some Americans jobs, but we can focus on the opportunities that we do control, the president seemed to be saying. We can compete by tapping our unrivaled innovation, and by spreading the benefits of education through our own society. We too can build out infrastructure, improving highways and adding high-speed rail. There are so many people out of work and there is so much work to be done.

It was particularly encouraging to hear Obama place special emphasis on the need to embrace cleaner sources of energy. As the president rightly noted, expanding renewable energy sources is not only a prime way to lessen our dependence on imported oil from often-hostile states and address climate change. It is also a potentially excellent way to put people back to work in hard- hit industrial communities, particularly in the Rust Belt.

Constructing wind turbines at scale requires parts and tools and steel. The finished products are so heavy and bulky that they are best constructed near where they will be deployed. Not for nothing is the Great Plains often referred to as the Saudi Arabia of Wind. Making the piece parts for an emerging renewable energy industry could be a fertile source of new jobs in areas surrounding the Great Plains.

Obama's use of Forsyth Tech, a community college in North Carolina, as an example of what he has in mind, was most appropriate. The program has trained workers cast off from industries like tobacco, textiles and furniture-making for new careers in biotechnology. In some sense, North Carolina's challenge is a microcosm of the nation's: Here is a state full of industries that prospered in the previous industrial age, yet has struggled as automation has replaced factory workers with machines, and as labor-intensive enterprises have shifted to low-wage manufacturing centers in Asia and Latin America.

Here, in short, is a state full of people accustomed to working for a living, with smarts and skills, but not always the right ones for the sorts of industries that now hold the most promise. North Carolina took stock of its many strengths and planned strategically for how best to exploit them: It has turned itself into one of the country's preeminent centers for biotechnology research and bio-manufacturing.

This did not happen without planning. The state harnessed the brainpower of its top research campuses--some of the leading centers of biotech on earth-- while launching the training program through its network of community colleges. The program prepares young people and older workers from declining industries for new jobs in biotech. Even the entry-level jobs typically pay far more than workers previously earned stitching up socks and making sofas.

But as Obama correctly noted last night, these sorts of transitions do not happen by relying on the private sector alone. They require government money.

"Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation," he said. "But because it's not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout our history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need. That's what planted the seeds for the Internet. That's what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS. Just think of all the good jobs -- from manufacturing to retail -- that have come from these breakthroughs."

This part of the speech simply cannot be underscored enough. In the economic-policy arena, it sometimes seems that the nation's long-vexing culture war has seeped in. Anyone inclined to call for government leadership and financial support must be prepared to be lampooned as an advocate for Chairman Mao's collectives. But as Obama importantly noted, the industries that have time and again proven most beneficial have also been the most difficult to launch, because research is expensive and cannot predictably be turned into commercial success. Failures in the lab can be costly and yet advance scientific understanding in crucial ways. Unless government shoulders the burden -- something China has been doing aggressively in biotech and renewable energy -- the breakthroughs tend not to arrive.

So the question now is whether the president's muscular rhetoric will be backed up by real dollars and attention. As my colleague Amy Lee reminded us earlier this week in a useful bit of analysis, President Obama has a history of promising huge funding for research and development in clean energy technologies, only to fall short.

The president once again delivered a warning about the need to address the budget deficit Tuesday night, and you could read that different ways. You could hear in the speech a legitimate plan for attacking the deficit: Invest now, reap the resulting growth and then, when things are humming, cut spending and raise taxes on the wealthy to get the deficit down.

But with the pageantry of the State of the Union now behind us, the halls of Congress return to their usual function as the killing zone for ideas big and small. The real test lies ahead, as Obama crafts his next spending plan knowing he will have to navigate it through a now Republican-controlled House eager to deprive him of victories even at the cost of jobs and economic growth. He will have to confront centrist Democrats vulnerable to seeing the deficit as the only issue and unwilling to sign off on costly investments.

This was a useful speech, a productive framework for policy. Let us hope that a year from now it will look like a genuine action plan, as opposed a momentary bit of inspiration soon trumped by the narrow obsession with dismantling government in the name of deficit reduction.

Monday, January 17, 2011

An Echo for healthcare in the East

It is the first community-based disease prevention programme here, and it wants to reach 1,500 residents in the east.

The Eastern Community Health Outreach (Echo) will provide regular reminders about health screenings, so that chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are detected early. It will also send health tips and SMS updates on events to those who join the programme.

For those with chronic illnesses, Echo will go a step further to help track the participant's progress every quarter.

"We wanted the community to stay healthy and not (have to) use the services of the hospital as much as possible. As they stay healthy, they become more productive," said Mr T K Udairam, chief executive officer of Changi General Hospital, which launched the programme yesterday with Changi Simei grassroots organisations.

Some residents have already signed up for Echo. "My dad has diabetes, so it's better to have early detection before anything happens to me," said Mr Imran Ahdun, 36.

His relative Syahiran Rani is only 22 but is just as concerned about his health, "in line with my National Service vocation as an ambulance medic".

Echo is the third and latest programme to be launched under an integrated care approach by a group of healthcare providers in the east. The health screenings begins from next month to April and will cost $2 for those between 18 and 34 years and $10 for those above the age of 35.