Archive for May, 2011

Debt-limit hike fails in House

May 31, 2011

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The House of Representatives on Tuesday defeated a bill to raise the debt limit in a vote staged by Republicans to strengthen their push for deep spending cuts in negotiations with the White House.

By a vote of 318-97, the chamber overwhelmingly rejected President Barack Obama’s call to increase the $14.3 trillion debt limit without conditions. Even some Democrats supporting Obama’s position voted against it.

“I’m going to advise my members that they not subject themselves to the demagoguery that is sure to follow” if they vote for the measure, chief Democratic vote-counter Steny Hoyer said before the vote.

Polls show the public does not support a further increase in borrowing authority even as the Treasury Department scrambles to avoid a default that could push the country back into recession and rattle markets across the globe.

The Treasury Department has been tapping alternate funding sources, such as federal employee pensions, to cover its obligations since the debt limit was reached on May 16, but has warned it will run out of options if Congress does not act by August 2.

For now, markets are little concerned by the possibility of default on what is viewed as one of the world’s safest investments. Yields on the benchmark 10-year Treasury bond reached a new 2011 low earlier in the day and traders predicted even lower yields later in the week.

“If we were having this conversation at the end of July it would be a different story. If the vote fails tonight, I don’t think it impacts prices,” said Christian Cooper, head of U.S. dollar derivatives trading at Jeffries & Co. in New York.

House Republicans held the vote in the late afternoon, well after markets had closed.

WHITE HOUSE MEETING ON WEDNESDAY

Obama will press the case on why the debt limit should be raised when he meets with House Republicans at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, the White House said.

Republicans say they will not back an increase in the country’s borrowing authority that does not include deep spending cuts to ensure that debt remains at a manageable level relative to the economy.

“This vote makes clear that deficit reduction will be part of any bill to increase the debt limit,” said Republican Representative Dave Camp, who sponsored the bill even though he does not support it.

In talks led by Vice President Joe Biden, Republicans and Democrats have identified hundreds of billions of dollars in possible spending cuts, and both sides say they could ultimately find more than a trillion dollars in deficit savings.

But they must resolve a dispute over the biggest-ticket items. Democrats say they will not consider cuts to popular health benefits until Republicans consider tax increases.

Tuesday’s vote came after the Senate defeated three separate Republican budget plans in largely symbolic votes last week. The Senate also voted down Obama’s budget proposal, which was considered to be irrelevant after he unveiled a more aggressive plan.

Democrats were split on the House bill, with 97 voting for a “clean” increase and 82 voting against it. No Republicans voted for the measure.

The vote could clear the way for a compromise by allowing lawmakers to say they voted against an increase that did not reduce deficits, but one analyst warned it did not guarantee support from conservative Republicans affiliated with the Tea Party movement.

“Some representatives would vote against it just because it would increase the government’s borrowing limit, others would oppose it because of the specific spending cuts and revenue increases, and others would vote ‘no’ because they want deeper deficit reduction,” Stan Collender, a budget analyst with Qorvis Communications, wrote in Roll Call, a congressional newspaper.

Obamacare went too far

May 31, 2011

Puerto Rico honra a sus veteranos

May 30, 2011

 

Posted by Jackeline Del Toro Cordero, EL VOCERO

BAYAMÓN- Con los acordes solemnes de piezas como ‘Now thank we all our God’, se realizó la presentación de ofrendas florales durante el inicio de la conmemoración de Día de la Recordación en el Cementerio Nacional de Bayamón, esta mañana.

La Banda 248 de la Guardia Nacional de Puerto Rico, dirigida por el sargento de Primera Clase
Daniel Quiñones, director musical asistente, tuvo a su cargo la interpretación de la música. Los golpes al redoblante marcaron el desfile de los colores, que fue precedida por una leve llovizna.

Unas 800 personas se reunieron junto al gobernador Luis Fortuño, la Presidenta de la Cámara, Jenniffer González; el Procurador del Veterano, el alcalde de San Juan, Jorge Santini, y otros funcionarios y veteranos para honrar el sacrificio que han realizado miles de puertorriqueños a través de décadas.

El Puesto 48 Oscar A. Rolón de Bayamón tuvo la encomienda de organizar la actividad. El lema seleccionado para la ocasión fue ‘El valor de su sacrificio es la fuerza de nuestra libertad’.

La responsabilidad del discurso recayó sobre el Ayudante General de Puerto Rico, mayor general Antonio J. Vicens González,

Esta es una de las pocas conmemoraciones originadas por orden congresional, cuyo propósito es honrar y recordar a los veteranos fenecidos en diferentes guerras, explicó el portavoz de la Guardia Nacional, oficial Orengo.

Los Estados Unidos, desde el 1776, ha participado en más de 10 conflictos bélicos.

En Puerto Rico, según los números más recientes, ha habido 145 mil veteranos de todas las ramas armadas. De éstos, más de 5,800 han perdido sus vidas desde que la Isla participa en conflictos bélicos. El más reciente, la semana pasada.

Ciento once han perdido la batalla en la guerra contra el terrorismo que se desata en el Medio Oriente, hubo más de 200 muertos a raíz de la Guerra de Corea, sin contar otros que emigraron a los Estados Unidos y que no fueron identificados como puertorriqueños, mientras que hay otros que nacieron fuera, pero se identificaron como puertorriqueños, observó Orengo.

9 %, Unemployment: The New Norm

May 29, 2011

by Jeremy Greenfield

Even as the economy recovers, the days of 5% unemployment may be gone for good.

A chorus of economists and labor market observers say that the “natural” or “structural” rate of unemployment has shifted up, meaning that Americans looking for work should get used to having a harder time finding it. The unemployment rate is currently 9% and could take until 2016 to reach the natural rate.

The so-called natural unemployment rate is somewhere around 7%, according to Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo. Other economists peg the natural unemployment rate somewhere between 5.5% and 7%. They said the figure will be held higher by a skills mismatch in the labor market that has been growing since the 1970s, the recent extension of unemployment benefits and the 2009 minimum wage increase.

“Businesses are looking to hire, but the workers they are looking to hire are not there in the abundance that they want them to be,” Vitner said.

Slightly more than half of U.S. businesses are having trouble finding the right candidate for open jobs, according to a survey released today of 1,322 U.S. businesses by global recruitment firm ManpowerGroup. In 2010, only 14% of respondents had similar gripes.

“There’s a talent mismatch,” said Jeff Joerres, CEO of ManpowerGroup. “That, coupled with the fact that demand in most industries is not so robust that [firms] need to compromise, means companies are able to wait to find the right people.”

Natural unemployment rate is a theoretical measure of what share of the workforce would be unemployed under ideal conditions given the underlying structure of the economy; that is, what goods and services that businesses are actually producing and the workers who produce them. Some economists and observers say that the structure of the economy has changed coming out of the recession.

Since 1996, the natural unemployment rate has hovered between 4.5% in 2000 and 5.8% in 2010, according to a periodic survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. The Congressional Budget Office, which uses the rate to make forecasts and projections, currently pegs it at 5.2%.

Making the New Natural

The structural changes that have the strongest effect on the natural unemployment rate are long-term shifts with prolonged consequences for the economy, according to Diane Swonk, chief economist and senior managing director at Mesirow Financial, a Chicago-based financial services firm.

While higher levels of education and new technologies have increased overall productivity and the earning potential of highly skilled workers over the course of several decades, the bottom half of the labor force was left behind. Fewer workers with up-to-date training means employers have a harder time filling openings — a skills mismatch.

“Educational attainment reached a peak in the 1970s, right at the moment we were moving from the industrial age to the information age,” said Swonk.

For instance, there are about 600,000 job openings in education and health services and almost 600,000 in professional and business services according to the BLS. Both of these sectors have very high rates of job openings compared to total positions, about 3% each, meaning that there is a lack of talent to fill the positions. This is as opposed to construction, which currently has 67,000 job openings, which is only 1.2% of all such positions.

A boom in the construction industry in the 2000s, an expansion of credit and gains in productivity through technology disguised the significant structural changes in the economy.

“We delayed the pain and papered-over the problem,” Swonk said. “The recession washed that away.”

Swonk believes that one of the lasting outcomes of the recession will be a skills shortage driven by educational inequality.

Bart Hobijn, an economist at the San Francisco Federal Reserve, argues against the skills mismatch theory for driving up natural unemployment. Hobijn recently studied the unemployment rate among recent college graduates — who are theoretically resistant to the effects of a skills shortage — and found that they were faring just as poorly in the labor market as others, implying that skills mismatch isn’t having much of an effect on the natural unemployment rate.

While Hobijn pegs the natural unemployment rate at about 6.5%, he attributes much of the upward shift to the extension of unemployment benefits and surprisingly slow hiring for the high number of job vacancies, which now number over 3.1 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Ironically, extended unemployment benefits and a higher minimum wage — a reaction to the higher unemployment brought on by the recession — contribute to a higher natural unemployment rate by encouraging more people to put off working and discouraging employers from hiring minimum wage workers.

Hard Times Finding Jobs

Ultimately, a higher natural unemployment rate means it will be harder for people to find work.

“Job seekers … are facing a chaotic and complex environment due to an over-supply of available workers,” Joerres at ManpowerGroup said.

In April, the number of people out of a job and looking for work swelled to over 13.7 million, driving the unemployment rate up to 9%. At the same time, the number of job openings increased to their highest level since 2008. Still, employers are slow to hire.

“We’re at an inflection point,” said Brett Good, a senior district president with Robert Half International. “Every survey that we’ve conducted has indicated that hiring managers are saying it’s harder and harder to find the talent they’re looking for at the professional level.”

Labor industry observers like Good and Joerres point to anecdotal evidence that suggests that the natural unemployment rate is up and that the U.S. economy has entered a new era of higher unemployment driven by a skills mismatch.

“Job descriptions have gotten much more specific and demand in most industries is not so robust, so companies can wait to find the right people,” said Joerres.

Some economists, however, don’t see the natural unemployment rate shifting much, citing a lack of evidence in the numbers coming out of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We’re beginning to see a little more hiring, but there’s still a lot of slack,” said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist for JPMorgan, referring to the difference between the real unemployment rate and the theoretical natural rate, which he pegs at 5.5%. Still, Feroli admits that there are industries that are seeing a tightening of the labor market, like technology or healthcare. In the latest numbers from the BLS, openings in healthcare increased to over 600,000, more than any other industry measured.

Whether the natural unemployment rate is 5.2% or much higher, the real unemployment rate is still 9%, meaning that there are more than four people on average competing for each job opening.

Make a Life

May 27, 2011

Rep. Paul Ryan talks Debt plan, Medicare

May 27, 2011

Supreme court sustains Ariz. employer sanctions law

May 27, 2011
By BOB CHRISTIE and MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press 

PHOENIX – The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld an Arizona law that penalizes businesses for hiring workers in the country illegally, buoying the hopes of supporters of state crackdowns on illegal immigration.

They predicted the ruling would lead to many other states passing laws that require employers to use the federal E-Verify system to check that workers aren’t illegal immigrants. And some said the ruling bodes well for the prospects of a much broader and more controversial immigration law in Arizona, known as SB1070, to be found constitutional.

The state is appealing a ruling blocking that law from taking effect.

But some legal experts said the ruling should not be read as a broad validation of such tactics. While they acknowledge that other states will now pass similar employer sanctions, they cautioned that the court did not make any sweeping endorsement of states’ rights to enforce federal immigration laws.

“It’s a very careful and narrowly reasoned opinion, so it doesn’t really tip the court’s hand one way or the other with respect to SB1070,” said Peter Spiro, a Temple University law professor who specializes in immigration law. “That being said, the court here is validating a state measure that implicates immigration enforcement. The court today has rejected an argument that the states have no business in immigration enforcement. That’s off the table.”

Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, a Republican who was a prime sponsor of the legislation that became the 2007 employer sanctions law, said his reaction to the ruling was “jubilation.”

“This is not only good for Arizona, it’s good for America,” Pearce told The Associated Press. “Finally, American workers are treated the way they ought to be. We’re going to put the profits-before-patriotism crowd in the back seat.”

Pearce said the ruling bodes well for an eventual Supreme Court decision on SB1070.

“I’m very confident we’ll win a 5-4 or possibly a 6-3 decision,” he said. “States have never been pre-empted from enforcing federal law.”

Both laws were written with the assistance of Kris Kobach, Kansas’ secretary of state and a former law professor. He said they were constructed to only use federal immigration law definitions, and the ruling upholding the first could mean success for the second.

“That language will vastly assist the state in defending SB1070,’ Kobach said.

Others aren’t so sure. Arizona State University constitutional law professor Paul Bender said Chief Justice John Roberts went out of his way to say the employer sanctions law was being enforced in conjunction with the federal government because its provisions mimic federal law.

That’s not the case with SB1070, Bender said. With that Arizona law, police decide who to detain, and illegal immigrants can be prosecuted in state court.

“If they really mean that this is OK but only because there are safeguards here to make sure the states don’t go crazy and start doing things contrary to federal policy, that would bode ill for 1070,” Bender said. “Because 1070 does not have these safeguards and there’s a real danger.”

Dozens of other states have taken up immigration-related measures since Arizona passed its first law. Most have gone nowhere, but several have passed laws similar to the one found constitutional on Thursday.

“So far Mississippi and South Carolina have followed Arizona in requiring E-Verify,’ Kobach said. “Alabama is about to … and I think you’ll see many other states jumping on the bandwagon and requiring E-Verify.”

Thursday’s 5-3 ruling placed the court’s five Republican-appointed justices on the side of the state and against the Chamber of Commerce, which challenged the law along with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Roberts, writing for the majority, said Arizona’s employer sanctions law “falls well within the confines of the authority Congress chose to leave to the states.”

Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, all Democratic appointees, dissented. The fourth Democratic appointee, Justice Elena Kagan, did not participate in the case because she worked on it while serving as President Barack Obama’s solicitor general.

Breyer said the Arizona law upsets a balance in federal law between dissuading employers from hiring illegal workers and ensuring that people are not discriminated against because they may speak with an accent or look like they might be immigrants.

Employers “will hesitate to hire those they fear will turn out to lack the right to work in the United States,” he said.

The Obama administration backed the challenge to the law. The measure was signed into law in 2007 by Democrat Janet Napolitano, then the governor of Arizona and now Obama’s Homeland Security secretary.

The employer sanctions law has been infrequently used. It was intended to diminish Arizona’s role as the nation’s hub for immigrant smuggling by requiring employers to verify the eligibility of new workers through a federal database. Employers found to have violated the law can have their business licenses suspended or revoked.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, praised the high court’s decision. “Not only is this law constitutional, it is commonsense. American jobs should be preserved for Americans and legal workers,” Smith said.

Lower courts, including the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, previously upheld the law.

The ACLU’s Cecillia Wang said the Supreme Court decision was disappointing, but narrow. “The decision has nothing to do with SB1070 or any other state and local immigration laws,” said Wang, director of ACLU’s immigrant rights project.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer called the decision gratifying and said it upheld states’ rights.

“Despite the Obama Administration’s opposition at the U.S. Supreme Court, Arizona and all states are now free to take down the `Help Wanted’ sign for illegal aliens in their states,” she said in a statement. “Arizona’s employer sanctions law allows the vast majority of businesses that want to play by the rules to comply with federal and state laws against hiring illegal aliens, and seeks to punish those employers who take advantage of the federal government’s immigration failures.”

Last month, a three-judge panel of that same appeals court upheld a trial judge’s ruling blocking enforcement of parts of SB1070. The provisions that were blocked include a requirement that police, while enforcing other laws, must question a person’s immigration status if officers have reasonable suspicion the person was in the country illegally.

Other provisions that are on hold include: requiring all immigrants to obtain or carry immigration registration papers; making it a state criminal offense for an illegal immigrant to seek work or hold a job; and allowing police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants without a warrant.

State officials have said they will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court. Brewer said she is hopeful the latest ruling means the high court will also uphold SB1070.

Señalados por Castro Font

May 26, 2011

Memoria ‘larga y tendida’ de De Castro Font

May 26, 2011

Por Milly Méndez

EL VOCERO

El ex senador novoprogresista Jorge De Castro Font aseguró -luego de ser acusado por la Fiscalía federal- que iba a delatar a varios políticos azules y rojos que imitaban sus actos corruptos; aceptar dinero o regalos a cambio de favores políticos.

El hoy convicto federal cantó como un pajarito durante sus declaraciones a las autoridades federales, resumidas en la forma 1023, documento confidencial, cuya copia EL VOCERO obtuvo.

Este diario publicó ayer los nombres de algunos funcionarios electos y empresarios que -de acuerdo a las declaraciones de De Castro Font- cometieron presuntas irregularidades para obtener ciertos favores.

De Castro Font le indicó a los agentes federales que recibió además de fuertes sumas de dinero por legislación, también viajaba fuera de Puerto Rico en aviones de un empresario. Según De Castro Font, este empresario también le prestó su avión privado en una ocasión al representante Antonio ‘Toñito’ Silva.

A juicio de De Castro Font algunos legisladores del Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP), recibieron ayuda del convicto cabildero Guillermo Zúñiga. Sin embargo, el documento no detalla qué tipo de ayuda recibió Kenneth McClintock, el ex legislador Carlos Díaz, y los legisladores José Chico Vega, Lucy Arce y Migdalia Padilla. El informe sí detalla que De Castro Font recibió $15 mil provenientes de actividades de recaudación de fondos, $5 mil mensuales de varios clientes de Zúñiga, y $3 mil de un grupo de optómetras.

Hasta para la confirmación de jueces el convicto legislador habría recibido dinero. De Castro Font sostuvo que Carlos Benítez le “otorgó varios pagos de $5 mil en efectivo dentro de revistas”. Benítez buscaba que se confirmara a Vivian Durrey como jueza superior y así ocurrió. De Castro Font y Benítez se encontraban en un Centro Comercial de Guaynabo donde Benítez le proveía las revistas con el dinero en efectivo. Según el documento federal, Benítez se inventó este esquema junto a Alberto Goachet, quien también obtuvo su porción del dinero.

En momentos en que el ex fiscal federal Guillermo Gil estaba llevando a cabo los casos de corrupción relacionados al Supertubo, a Víctor Fajardo y el Instituto del Sida, su hermano –de acuerdo a De Castro Font- Jerry Gil, le entregó sumas de dinero no especificadas, en varios almuerzos.

Por otro lado, De Castro Font relató que el dueño de las empresas Novus Carlos Castellón le otorgó $24 mil para su defensa legal una vez fue acusado en el foro federal y as’ lo sostuvo en una declaración jurada donde reiteró que le donaba dinero porque eran amigos. No obstante, en las declaraciones del ex senador de 2009, se supo que alegadamente Castellón estaba en contra de un proyecto que buscaba aumentar el salario mínimo.

Otro empresario que presuntamente le dio dinero al pasado legislador fue Wilson Colberg Trigo. Según la declaración, esta persona le entregó varios cheques y dinero en efectivo en diversas instancias. En una ocasión Colberg le otorgó unos $6 mil. Tanto Colberg como Castellón le pagaban la gasolina al convicto en la estación Esso de Miramar.

Otros empresarios y abogados que nombró De Castro Font como sus donantes son Aileen Mudafort, Yolanda Benítez, Luis Rivera Siacca, Ralphie Pagán, Santos Alonso, Porfirio ‘Alex’ Brito, Freddy Maldonado, Tito Morales, Frank Trógolo, José Torres, José Vélez, Noel Ramos, Rafael Vizcarrondo, Joel Katz, Frank Kolodziej, Matías Fernández, Roberto ‘Tito’ Cacho, Luis Benetti, Juan Santiago, Greg Cortéz y Julio Méndez.

Limiting Government

May 26, 2011