Following the predictable failure of last minute talks at the White House, President Barack Obama blamed Congressional Republicans for the budget sequester. He has the rhetorical upper hand, but must worry about overselling the sequester’s impact.
** NEW COLUMN COMING UP … WILL JERRY BROWN BE UNOPPOSED FOR RE-ELECTION?
** QUICK HITS. The F-35 test aircraft fleet, grounded yet again a few days ago, has been cleared for take-off after Pentagon analysts determined that a cracked engine turbine blade was due to overuse of a single test aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base in the California high desert. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project is the most expensive single weapons system ever developed by the US. … The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon cargo ship to the International Space Station lifted off today successfully but ran into problems once in orbit with faulty maneuvering thrusters. After hours of work, the problem seems to be corrected but not the cargo mission is behind schedule. Fortunately, it’s not that time-sensitive. … Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, presiding over the annual Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio, has another major gig with his old friends at American Media as group executive editor for Muscle & Fitness and Flex Magazines. … This weekend’s Arnold Sports Festival, the nation’s largest multi-sport event, includes the 25th annual rendition of the Arnold Classic bodybuilding contest. Schwarzenegger has expanded his Arnold Classic sports festivals to Europe, last year and this in Madrid, and now Latin America, where the Arnold Classic Brasil will take place in late April in Rio. … Not counting the Olympics and the Universiade (World University Games), put on by longstanding multi-national organizations, Schwarzenegger is, I believe, the biggest individual multi-sport event promoter in the world. More to follow.
** NEW SURVEY: CONSUMER SPENDING FLATTENS. A new Gallup Poll survey reveals that consumer spending in February was up only slightly from the level in January.
Thus people were already acting cautiously, in this rickety recovery, even before the budget sequester went into effect.
But is that because of the sequester, which most seem not terribly concerned about? Or because of the rather flimsy if still real recovery?
If the sequester proves to have real teeth, rather than be the latest Beltway puffery that does manage to cut the defense budget some, then the stage seems set for retrenchment.
U.S. self-reported consumer spending was essentially flat in February, averaging $83 per day, compared with $80 in January. Gallup’s consumer spending measure is running at a higher level in early 2013 than has been the case over the past several years, but remains well below the $106 of February 2008. …
Americans’ self-reported spending estimates may seem surprisingly strong — even though flat in February — given the elimination of the payroll tax holiday, record-high gas prices for this time of year, reports of relatively soft consumer purchases at a number of retailers, and talk of the potentially negative impact on the economy of federal budget cuts under the so-called sequester. On the other hand, Wall Street is surging, Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index remains near its five-year high, and optimism seems to be spreading about the outlook for key economic sectors such as autos and housing. Right now, it seems consumers are seeing these as offsetting economic factors, allowing them to continue spending at their January pace.
In this regard, Gallup’s consumer spending estimates provide a somewhat different economic “window” into the U.S. economy than most other consumer spending measures. Gallup’s spending measure excludes large items such as autos and housing, but does include gas at the pump and Internet spending. As a result, the relative strength of Gallup’s spending measure for February may also reflect a general shift in spending composition — for example, an increase in consumer spending on the Internet and away from bricks and mortar — not just a change in overall discretionary spending levels. And it may also reflect the reality of the increase in costs of gas and other consumer necessities such as food.
Regardless, Gallup’s estimates suggest consumers are spending somewhat more in early 2013 than over the past four years, but not yet enough to catch up with early 2008 levels recorded in the early stages of the recession and before the financial crisis. Whether this positive spending can be maintained in the face of what seem like continuous political confrontations in the nation’s capital remains unclear. What is clear, however, is that building on the current consumer spending levels will require improving job growth — something still not in evidence in early 2013.
Secretary of State John Kerry is holding talks with Turkish leaders in Ankara over the crisis in Syria, amid reports of heavy fighting in Syria’s two main cities and a Scud missile attack at the Iraqi border. In a joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Friday, Kerry said the two discussed how the international community can come together “in an effort to try to create a political transition” in Syria.
** NEW COLUMN COMING UP … WILL JERRY BROWN BE UNOPPOSED FOR RE-ELECTION?
** OBAMA TODAY. President Barack Obama is in Washington.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden received the intelligence and economic briefings in the Oval Office.
Obama and Biden then met in the Oval Office with the congressional leaders of both parties to discuss the budget sequester.
Following that, he delivered remarks in the Brady Press Briefing Room, predictably blaming Republicans for the failure of talks.
And so the fabled Sequester is upon us. At least for now. The Fiscal Cliff went into overtime, too. This mode of governance by impending disaster is losing its needed sense of melodrama.
More to the point, the public doesn’t seem to think it’s a big deal and Congress, jaunting around yet again, doesn’t act like it is, either.
I’ve said all along that the danger for Obama here is in overselling the impacts of sequester.
Obama is monitoring several geopolitical crises involving the Arab Awakening, Iran and Israel, Syria, Iraq, AfPak, and the South China Sea.
Military Crisis Zone Times: The Persian/Arabian Gulf is ten hours ahead of Pacific time, and Afghanistan is eleven and a half hours ahead of Pacific time. The time in Manila, on the South China Sea, is fifteen hours ahead of Pacific time.
Southern California’s aerospace contractors are bracing for automatic, across-the-board spending cuts. Business executives are trying to gauge how those cuts will affect their defense contracts and their bottom lines.
** FROM THE JERRY FILES. Governor Jerry Brown is in Northern California.
He has no scheduled public events as of this morning.
The California Republican Party — which as I may have mentioned a time or two when the idea seemed new, is flat on its back — holds its state convention this weekend in Sacramento.
There it will elect former state Senate Minority Leader Jim Brulte as its new chairman and hear from Karl Rove and a rather motley crew of characters in various keynoter sorts of roles.
I’ll be there, around and about, to assess the progress of the Grand Old Party.
Will anyone sane or significant surface as a candidate to run against Brown, who of course has not announced his candidacy but gives every sign of going for a record fourth term? (Will Sutter Brown really be on the ticket?)
** SECRETARY HAGEL AND THE SENATE’S MASSIVE WASTE OF TIME. … From my February 27th essay.
** OSCARMANIA! (OR NOT): A POLITICAL STEW ON LIGHT SIMMER. … From my February 25th essay.
** THE HAILSTORM AROUND HAGEL POINTS UP THE SYSTEM’S DYSFUNCTIONALITY. … From my February 21st essay.
** THE ANTI-HAGEL GAMBITS: CLEVER, BUT NOT REALLY THAT CLEVER. … From my February 15th essay.
** WITH LITTLE POLITICAL OR POLICY IMPACT AND DUMBED DOWN LANGUAGE, DOES THE STATE OF THE UNION EVEN MATTER? … From my February 12th column.
** JERRY BROWN FINDS FUN (IN NEW FOIL RICK PERRY) AND MORE THAN A BIT OF ILLUMINATION. … From my February 7th column.
** COME HAGEL OR HIGH WATER: IN THE SHADE OF IRAQ. … From my February 1st essay.
** FROM GOVERNATOR TO MOONBEAM. … From my January 3rd, 2011 feature.
** OBAMA: RIDING WITH HISTORY. (NOTE: As Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States, this column was the featured column on the top of the front page of the Huffington Post.) … From my January 19th, 2009 Huffington Post column.
** 24/7 LIVE TV NEWS FEED FROM AL JAZEERA. With the US entangled in major military operations in the region, and the Arab awakening underway, it’s valuable to keep up with news and perspectives from the leading Middle Eastern-based TV news network. Click here for a live TV news feed on your computer. The NWN live link to AJ does not constitute an endorsement of the channel’s views. It’s presented as an otherwise unavailable new media window.
** 24/7 LIVE TV NEWS FEED FROM RUSSIA TODAY. Russia has re-emerged as one of the world’s great powers. Click here for a live TV news feed on your computer from the Russia Today channel. The NWN live link to RT does not constitute an endorsement of the state-run channel’s views. It’s presented as an otherwise unavailable new media window.
** TRACK GLOBAL AND NATIONAL ENERGY PRICES IN NEAR REAL TIME VIA BLOOMBERG ENERGY MARKET WATCH. Having crashed over $147 for yet another record on July 11th, 2008, crude oil is trading around $91 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
This is up about $57 from the low of $34 per barrel prior to enactment of the Obama economic recovery program, reflecting a low point in global economic activity, and down about $23 per barrel from the price at the time of the Osama bin Laden raid.
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