Monday, June 8, 2009

U.S. pushes for Israeli-Palestinian discussions

U.S. pushes for Israeli-Palestinian discussions
By Jeffrey Heller
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The United States said on Monday it would make a new push for Israeli-Palestinian talks and U.S. envoy George Mitchell, en route to the region, hoped to lay the groundwork.
"The president has told me to exert all efforts to create the circumstance when the parties can begin immediate discussions," Mitchell told reporters at a Palestinian donors' conference in Oslo, referring to renewed negotiations that President Barack Obama has pledged to pursue.
In the Gaza Strip, militants opposed to a dialogue tried to blast open Israel's border fence.
Israeli forces killed three Palestinian militants who had planned to breach the border fence with the Hamas-run territory by detonating explosives they had tied to five horses, a military spokesman said.
Middle East envoy Tony Blair said after the Oslo meeting Obama's push for a peace deal should be embraced by Arab states.
"For the Arab countries in particular we need their support... We need their support for the Palestinian Authority, their support for the peace process, their support in coming to a new ... understanding about how we can establish peace in the Middle East.
"President Obama needs something to come back to him, he's reaching out but he needs people to reach back and I think the next few months is all about seeing whether we can create the circumstances where that happens," he told Reuters.
POLICY SPEECH
Mitchell was to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday.
Netanyahu is at odds with Obama over the president's demand to halt Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank and has not endorsed the creation of a Palestinian state, a cornerstone of U.S. Middle East policy.
The Israeli leader is to make a major policy speech on Sunday in which a senior official said Netanyahu would "articulate his vision on how to move forward in the peace process with the Palestinians and with the larger Arab world."
Netanyahu has said he is ready to meet Abbas and begin talks on economic, security and political issues, which he has not specified.
Palestinians have rejected his proposed shift of focus away from territorial issues, whose complexity, Netanyahu has said, has frustrated U.S.-backed attempts to reach a final peace deal.
Abbas said renewed talks would be pointless unless Netanyahu first stopped settlement activity and endorsed Palestinian statehood as part of a 2003 peace "road map" that also calls on the Palestinian Authority to crack down on militants.
"If Israel rejects this and rejects the two-state solution, then, what shall we negotiate?" Abbas asked during a visit to a school in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Continued...
Source: Reuters

Democrats stoke grassroots healthcare campaign

Democrats stoke grassroots healthcare campaign
By Carey Gillam
KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - From a living room in Kansas to a bagel shop in New York to an Alabama church, Democrats have started mobilizing support for President Barack Obama's healthcare reform plans.
Suburban housewives and social workers mixed with Baptist ministers, college students, retirees and many others at grassroots gatherings over the weekend. Spurred by the Democratic National Committee's burgeoning political machine dubbed "Organizing for America," thousands of such meetings had been planned for Friday through Monday.
Those attending the scripted two-hour events viewed a videotaped message from Obama, shared personal stories and made local battle plans to counter the expected stiff opposition.
"It's going to be a vicious fight," said 76-year-old Hank Putsch who attended an organizing meeting on Saturday at a Kansas City restaurant. "The insurance companies and healthcare companies are gearing up to oppose this. We've got to get our voices heard."
Obama has declared this summer "make-or-break" time for healthcare reform and has called on Congress to pass comprehensive legislation by the end of the year, saying America can no longer afford the costs of a system dominated by profit-driven insurance and healthcare companies which leaves 46 million people uninsured.
Though he is leaving the details to Congress, Obama has said reform must ensure a public health insurance option operating alongside private plans, a reduction in basic costs, and assurance that no one is denied insurance.
"This is why we elected him," said Sarah Starnes, a hospital social worker who has volunteered to help campaign for the Obama plan in Missouri. "It used to be that we'd elect a president and then the lobbyists would determine what happened. This time it is going to be us who determine what happens."
The Democrats' strategy calls for tapping an estimated 2 million volunteers and a database of more than 10 million e-mail addresses built during Obama's election campaign.
SCRIPTED TALKING POINTS
Supporters are receiving talking points and scripted messages to lobby friends and family. A signature drive is underway to petition members of Congress and online fund-raising is earmarked for TV and radio advertisements.
Supporters hope to demonstrate their strength in a "National Health Care Day of Service" later this month.
"All it takes is one big medical crisis to ruin a family," said Melissa Carlson, who with her husband Bob, hosted an organizing effort on Saturday in their Overland Park, Kansas home. "One person can't make a difference but if we all do something eventually it adds up."
White House economic advisers last week said U.S. healthcare spending accounts for about 18 percent of the country's economic output, but could reach 34 percent by 2040 and the uninsured population could climb to 72 million.
Even those with insurance are finding it harder to pay their portion of medical bills while job losses are making healthcare costs more burdensome.
At one meeting held Saturday in a suburban Dallas, Texas, home, 59-year-old Grace Allison said she could not pay for a recent emergency room visit after losing her health insurance along with her job as a university administrator. Continued...
Source: Reuters

Health and climate change vie for boost in Congress

Health and climate change vie for boost in Congress
By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Barack Obama may be pressuring Congress as no U.S. president has for decades as he aims to get two big domestic goals passed this year -- reforming health care and fighting global warming.
"It's not impossible to do both, but that would be more than a Congress has ever given a president, maybe since the first First 100 Days," said Brookings Institution senior fellow Stephen Hess, referring to the start of Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal" presidency in 1933.
A further time constraint may be the pressures imposed by the campaign next year for congressional elections in November when the seats of all 435 U.S. representatives and a third of the 100 senators are up for grabs.
Congress in the past often has shown itself to be unable to handle more than one big issue a year, but Obama and his fellow Democrats, who control the Senate and House of Representatives, see a window of opportunity this year to pass two long-standing Democratic goals.
Expanding health care to the uninsured and reducing pollution associated with climate change would have an economic impact on nearly every consumer and most U.S. companies -- from health insurers and utilities, to oil refineries, ailing automakers, steel manufacturers and small businesses.
Nonetheless, Democratic leaders are giving it a run, placing both initiatives on a fast track -- with or without much Republican support.
"The one that has the highest probability of making it is health care," said Bruce Josten, an executive vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He noted a full legislative agenda later this year, including annual spending bills, a Supreme Court confirmation and tax legislation, could crowd out a climate bill debate in the Senate.
Nevertheless, several congressional committees are pushing ahead with their review of the bill that aims to cut industry's carbon dioxide emissions 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050 with alternative energy sources and energy efficiencies.
The bill's prospects are strengthened by an unusual coalition of environmentalists, corporations and labor unions that have joined the effort. Obama is trying to sell climate change legislation as much more than doing something good for the environment. "Green" job creation and weaning the country off of foreign oil are his major talking points.
According to several Democratic lawmakers, the White House is already working hard to woo Senate Democratic and Republican moderates who will hold the keys to obtaining the needed 60-vote majority in the 100-member Senate.
In the meantime, environmentalists are heartened that four months into Obama's presidency such wide-ranging legislation is advancing, even with its concessions to some industries.
"If it became law today it would be the most important piece of energy and environmental legislation Congress ever produced," said one activist.
HEALTH CARE IN THE LEAD
Of the two, health care might be the bill that is more likely to reach Obama's desk for enactment by year's end. Both houses of Congress hope to blend their respective bills into a compromise measure by October -- Obama's deadline.
Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy has a major role in drafting the new health care bill as head of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The bill would require individuals and businesses to purchase insurance and prohibit insurance companies from refusing to cover anyone because of health history. Continued...
Source: Reuters

Really, I do like you, Obama tells French and Germans

Really, I do like you, Obama tells French and Germans
Obama, Sarkozy agree on Mideast
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By Ross Colvin
PARIS (Reuters) - Barack Obama's trip to Europe this weekend revealed deep anxieties among the French and Germans that the U.S. president, hugely popular in both countries, doesn't really like them.
After years in which France and Germany happily distanced themselves from the unpopular policies of former President George W. Bush, Obama appeared bemused as he tried to reassure French and German journalists at a press conference they should not read anything into the brevity of his 2-1/2-day trip.
But he learnt, like the most popular kid in school who everyone wants to befriend, that the slightest gesture can seem like a snub to those anxious to be liked.
The president spent less than a day on Friday in Germany, where he held talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and visited the Buchenwald concentration camp that his great uncle helped to liberate in World War Two.
"Most of the speculation around my schedule here in Germany doesn't take into account simple logistics, traveling, trying to get from one place to the other ... there are only 24 hours in a day."
"So stop it, all of you," Obama, with a smile, told journalists.
"I know you have to have something to report on but we have more than enough problems out there without manufacturing problems."
The shortness of Obama's stay in Germany and his decision not to go to Berlin led to German media speculation of a rift, but the president dismissed this as "wild speculation."
Relations between Washington and Berlin have been less than smooth since Obama took office in January. Facing an election in September, Merkel has resisted U.S. pressure to take inmates from Guantanamo and send more troops to Afghanistan.
Obama traveled to Europe earlier this year to attend G-20 and NATO summits in a trip aimed at repairing ties with European allies alienated by Bush's war on terror, invasion of Iraq and climate change policies.
"BEST FRIENDS"
Arriving in France on Saturday to attend commemorations marking the 65th anniversary of the World War Two D-Day landings, Obama again found himself on the defensive after holding only brief talks and a working lunch with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
French officials had expressed surprise, in private, that he could not find the time for an official reception at Sarkozy's Elysee Palace. Obama dined with his wife Michelle at a restaurant near the Eiffel tower in Paris instead.
"I think it's important to understand that good friends don't worry about the symbols and the conventions and the protocols," Obama told reporters with Sarkozy by his side, dismissing the suggestion he was snubbing his French host.
In translated remarks, Sarkozy was heard to say: "Do people think we should be hand in hand looking into each other's eyes?" Continued...
Source: Reuters

U.S. mulls putting North Korea back on terror list

U.S. mulls putting North Korea back on terror list
By Sue Pleming
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is looking into putting North Korea back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism in response to its nuclear test last month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in an interview on Sunday.
"We're going to look at it. There's a process for it. Obviously we would want to see recent evidence of their support for international terrorism," she said on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."
Asked whether she had evidence of the North's support for international terrorism, Clinton said: "We're just beginning to look at it. I don't have an answer for you right now."
The United States removed North Korea from its terrorism blacklist in October in a bid to revive faltering six-nation denuclearization talks that have completely broken down.
The impoverished Communist-ruled Asian nation was taken off the list after agreeing to a series of verification measures at its nuclear facilities. It has been condemned internationally since its defiant May 25 nuclear test.
"Obviously they were taken off of the list for a purpose, and that purpose is being thwarted by their actions," Clinton said.
Coming off the list meant North Korea could better tap into international finance and see some trade sanctions lifted -- benefits that would be reversed, although other sanctions have remained as a result of its first nuclear test in 2006.
SUPPORT FROM RUSSIA AND CHINA
Clinton said she expected a strong sanctions resolution against North Korea to emerge from the U.N. Security Council, with the backing of China and Russia, which previously balked at such measures and hold veto powers on the council.
"I think what is going somewhere is additional sanctions in the United Nations -- arms embargo, other measures taken against North Korea with the full support of China and Russia," she said in reference to the ongoing U.N. deliberations.
Clinton said the United States would work hard to cut off the flow of money to North Korea.
"If we do not take significant and effective action against the North Koreans now, we'll spark an arms race in Northeast Asia. I don't think anybody wants to see that," she said.
"And so part of what we're doing is again, sharing with other countries our calculus of the risks and the dangers that would lie ahead if we don't take very strong action."
Renewed tensions over North Korea's nuclear program coincide with the trial in recent days of two U.S. female journalists held in Pyongyang.
Analysts say the pair, who were working for the Current TV network co-founded by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, have become bargaining chips in negotiations with the United States. Continued...
Source: Reuters

Netanyahu wants "maximum understanding" with U.S

Netanyahu wants maximum understanding with U.S
By Jeffrey Heller
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he would strive for "maximum understanding" with Washington on peace issues but gave no sign he intends to bow to its demand to halt settlement expansion.
Under pressure from U.S. President Barack Obama over settlements in the occupied West Bank and Palestinian statehood, which Netanyahu has not endorsed, the Israeli leader said he would set out his policies in a major speech later this month.
"I want to make clear, it is our intention to achieve peace with the Palestinians and with the countries of the Arab world while attempting to reach maximum understanding with the United States and our friends in the world," Netanyahu said.
"I aspire to a stable peace based on the solid foundations of the security of the state of Israel and its citizens," he told his right-wing cabinet at its weekly meeting.
By mentioning security, Netanyahu again highlighted an issue he has called paramount to Israel's approach to peace with the Palestinians, whom he has said should have self-government but only limited powers of sovereignty.
In a speech on Thursday to Muslims in which he reaffirmed a U.S. commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state, Obama said Washington "does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements."
Despite the rare rift with the United States, Israel's main ally, Israeli officials said Netanyahu has no intention of risking the collapse of his coalition by ceasing all settlement activity in the West Bank.
Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, urged Netanyahu to announce his acceptance of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a settlement freeze and "a return to serious negotiations."
Half a million Jews live in settlement blocks built in the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem, areas where, with the Gaza Strip, Palestinians want to establish a state.
U.S. ENVOY
Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, is to begin a visit to Israel and the West Bank on Monday. Western and Israeli officials said the White House was formulating a blueprint for a renewed peace process that could be presented early next month.
Without giving a date, Netanyahu said "Next week, I will make a major diplomatic speech in which I will present to the citizens of Israel our principles for achieving peace and security."
Israel Radio said he would deliver the address on June 14. A Netanyahu spokesman said he could not confirm the date.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, head of the center-left Labour Party in Netanyahu's government, held out the possibility of a softening in Israel's position on Palestinian statehood in return for an easing of U.S. pressure over settlements.
Referring to a 2003, U.S.-endorsed peace plan, Barak told reporters the government should declare it is "committed to all previous agreements signed by previous governments, including the 'road map', whose goal is two states for two peoples." Continued...
Source: Reuters

Obama speech to Muslims "deceptive," Taliban says

Obama speech to Muslims deceptive, Taliban says
Obama: Islam promotes peace
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LONDON (Reuters) - The Taliban said on Saturday that U.S. President Barack Obama's speech to the Muslim world was full of "deceptive slogans" and did nothing to change relations between America and Muslims.
The speech, which Obama delivered at Cairo University on Thursday, "had nothing substantial in terms of content in order to reduce the dissonance that has reached its peak between Muslims and America," the Taliban leadership said in a message posted on Islamist Internet forums and translated by SITE Intelligence Group.
"His occupation and transgressing forces continue to kill, torture and arrest Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq, trample upon their deserved rights with their feet, mercilessly kill them for defending their rights and throw them in the most horrible prisons in the world," the message added.
Obama's address, lasting almost an hour, was merely the "continuation of the previous deceptive slogans of America," the message said.
Violence in Afghanistan has surged to its highest levels since the 2001 U.S. invasion toppled the Taliban, which had harbored the al Qaeda network responsible for the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Washington also is worried about the stability of nuclear-armed Pakistan in face of a growing insurgency and has urged action against militants to help defeat al Qaeda and disrupt support for the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The Pakistani army launched an offensive against Taliban fighters and their allies in the Swat valley in the northwest of the country last month.
The message from the Taliban was its first reaction to Obama's speech, which has been widely scrutinized in the Muslim world.
Many Muslims who listened to Obama's address welcomed the change in tone from Washington but said they wanted to see more specifics about how he would heal long-running sores that include the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Egypt's opposition Muslim Brotherhood, a group that renounced violence decades ago, said the speech was mainly for public relations.
(Reporting by Michael Roddy)

Source: Reuters

Obama seeks to change Muslim perceptions of U.S.

Obama seeks to change Muslim perceptions of U.S.
By Ross Colvin and David Alexander
CAIRO (Reuters) - President Barack Obama sought to change Muslim perceptions of the United States on Thursday in a speech that urged Arabs and Israelis to declare in public the realities he said they accept in private.
Addressing the world's more than 1 billion Muslims from Cairo, Obama called for a "new beginning" in ties between Washington and the Islamic world in his speech that also tackled grievances over two U.S.-led wars and tensions over Iran.
Some Muslims welcomed Obama's fresh tone after George W. Bush's departure even as others expressed frustration that he failed to outline specific changes to U.S. policy, reflecting skepticism in the region Obama must still overcome.
In his keynote speech, occasionally interrupted by shouts of "we love you," Obama said he did not want U.S. troops to stay in Iraq or Afghanistan forever and offered mutual respect in seeking to resolve differences with long-time foe, Tehran.
"We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world -- tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate," Obama said in the address that included quotes from Islam's holy book, the Koran.
"I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect," he said. "America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition."
"This cycle of suspicion and discord must end," he said.
Highlighting hostility the U.S. leader faces from some quarters, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in a message on a website, warned Muslims against alliance with Christians and Jews, saying it would annul their faith.
The supreme leader of Washington's regional arch foe, Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said before Obama spoke that America was "deeply hated" and only action, not "slogans," could change that.
The choice of Cairo for the speech underscored Obama's focus on the Middle East, where he faces big foreign policy challenges, from trying to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to curbing Iran's nuclear plans that Washington says is to build atomic bombs. Tehran denies any such aims.
His trip included touring a 14th century mosque and the pyramids in the desert on the edge of Cairo. He was seen off at the airport, walking up the red carpet in the t-shirt and trousers he wore while visiting the ancient pharaonic sites.
TWO-STATE SOLUTION
Although the administration tried to lower expectations in recent days about what the speech would accomplish, there were high hopes in the region that he would take a tougher line on Israel and follow up his words with actions.
He offered few specifics on democracy, rule of law and human rights in the Arab world, issues many hoped he would spell out.
"He should have been outspoken about democracy and the universal principles of human rights," said Syrian lawyer Mohannad al-Hassani. Continued...
Source: Reuters

U.S. healthcare revamp to require medical coverage

U.S. healthcare revamp to require medical coverage
By Donna Smith
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers plan far-reaching insurance market reforms, and would require that businesses and individuals purchase medical coverage as they seek to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system, an early draft of Senate legislation said on Saturday.
The legislation seeks to provide health coverage for all Americans and would prohibit insurance companies from refusing to cover anyone because of health history. It also would outlaw annual or lifetime limits on coverage.
The bill would require individuals and businesses to purchase insurance. The business community is likely to raise strong objections to the employer requirement in the measure, being drafted by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee headed by Senator Edward Kennedy.
The sweeping healthcare overhaul is a top legislative priority for Democratic President Barack Obama, who says he wants Congress to send him a bill by October.
To help small businesses and individuals without employer-provided insurance, the Kennedy committee bill would establish government operated "gateways" for them to purchase affordable medical coverage. The gateway, or insurance exchange as some have called it, would act as a clearinghouse that would help customers compare plans and prices.
The bill also provides for a sliding scale of subsidies to help people with incomes up to 500 percent of the poverty level purchase insurance. Exceptions would be made for poor people and some small businesses. The bill also would make millions more people eligible to join the Medicaid health program for the poor.
Kennedy's committee is one of two writing the massive overhaul. The Senate Finance Committee headed by Senator Max Baucus is working on similar legislation and also will decide how to pay for the subsidies and a proposed new government plan that many Democrats want to compete with private insurers.
Republicans and insurance companies oppose the idea of a new public plan, arguing that it would drive many firms out of business and lead to a total government system.
Kennedy's spokesman Anthony Coley said the legislative language that was being widely circulated in Washington was an earlier draft of the bill.
Lawmakers are still fine-tuning the details in closed door sessions with an aim toward holding open committee sessions in the next few weeks. Both Baucus and Kennedy have said they would like to achieve broad bipartisan support on the bill, which is expected to be brought to the Senate for a vote in July.
(Reporting by Donna Smith, editing by Patricia Zengerle)

Source: Reuters

White House mulls Guantanamo guilty pleas: report

White House mulls Guantanamo guilty pleas: reportNEW YORK (Reuters) - The Obama administration is considering seeking a change in the special U.S. military trials for Guantanamo Bay terrorism suspects to allow those who face the death penalty to plead guilty without getting a full trial, The New York Times reported on Friday.
The trials, formally known as military commissions, have been effectively frozen since January while the administration weighs its options. Human rights groups have said the commissions, created by former President George W. Bush, are fundamentally unfair to defendants.
The Times said the changes being explored by the Obama administration would aim to resolve an ambiguity in the 2006 law governing the military commissions.
The newspaper said the proposal to allow a guilty plea in a death penalty case was contained in a draft of legislation that would be submitted to Congress for consideration.
Current law does not make clear whether guilty pleas are permitted in death penalty cases in military commissions.
While U.S. civilian courts typically allow such pleas in capital cases, U.S. military law prohibits members of the armed services who face capital charges from pleading guilty in a military trial.
In part to ensure fairness when execution is possible, prosecutors under military law must prove a defendant guilty in a trial even when the defendant wants to plead guilty.
The only death penalty case currently before a military commission is the one involving five detainees charged as the planners of the September 11, 2001, attacks, including the self-proclaimed mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, according to the Times.
During a December hearing at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the five prisoners said they wanted to plead guilty, and military prosecutors argued they should be allowed to do so. Defense lawyers said the commissions should bar the guilty pleas.
The military judge has not yet resolved the issue.
The detainees have stated that pleading guilty would help them achieve what they see as martyrdom.
Citing unnamed sources, the Times reported that the proposal on permitting guilty pleas had been presented to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
The newspaper said the proposal would simplify the government's task of prosecuting men who have confessed to acts of terrorism but whose legal cases present challenges. For example, evidence may include confessions given following interrogation methods that some critics consider torture.
The Obama administration has been struggling with how to deal with the 240 detainees still being held at Guantanamo.
The prison, opened in 2002, has been seen by many critics as a symbol of detainee abuse and detention without charges under the Bush administration.
(Writing by Chris Michaud; Editing by Will Dunham)

Source: Reuters

U.S. to ramp up recovery projects: Biden

U.S. to ramp up recovery projects: Biden
By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House will speed up the pace of new federally funded construction projects over the next several months, Vice President Joe Biden said on Friday after a report showing what he called an encouraging drop in the number of U.S. jobs lost in May.
"As much progress as we've already made, we still have a long, long way to go on the road to recovery. That's why on Monday, the president and I will be announcing our plans to ramp up Recovery Act implementation over the summer," Biden said, referring to the $787 billion economic stimulus bill Congress passed earlier this year.
Meanwhile, contractors complained in a separate conference call with reporters that "Buy American" provisions of the recovery legislation were slowing down work.
To meet the requirement that iron, steel and other manufactured goods used in the projects are made in the United States, contractors have to go through a time-consuming certification or waiver process, said Ken Simonson, chief economist for Associated General Contractors of America.
"I've been hearing that some of the water and wastewater projects in particular have faced a potential slowdown," Simonson said.
Many products covered by the Buy American mandate "aren't even made in America any more. That's what's sad about the situation," said Don Laskey, president of Laskey-Clifton Corp., a construction services company based in Oregon.
Obama, who has been traveling in the Middle East and Europe this week, tapped Biden in February to oversee implementation of the massive package of public works funds, tax cuts and aid to states.
The vice president held a conference call with four governors, five mayors and two county executives on Thursday to discuss implementing the stimulus plan.
Biden told reporters a Labor Department report on Friday showing U.S. employers cut 345,000 jobs, the fewest since September and far fewer than the 500,000 job cuts analysts had forecast, was a sign the stimulus package was already paying off.
"Construction unemployment, for example, is down 59,000 jobs in May, cutting in half the average of 125,000 jobs lost each month over the first four months of this year," he said.
But the 345,000 overall job losses in May was still a "tough" overall number for the workers, families and communities involved, Biden said. The U.S. unemployment rate also rose to 9.4 percent in May, the highest level in almost 26 years, from 8.9 percent in April.
"Let me be very clear: a lower job rate loss is not our goal. ... We will not be satisfied until we're adding jobs on a monthly basis," Biden said.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert; editing by Patricia Zengerle and Todd Eastham)

Source: Reuters

"Buy American" provision in House climate bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A new "Buy American" provision in a massive climate change bill working its way through Congress is a worrisome sign of increased U.S. protection, a business official said on Friday.
The provision offers financial aid to automakers building plug-in electric cars. But it stipulates those cars must be "developed and produced in the United States."
"All of us are trying to do everything we can to help the automakers here. But provisions like this smell of Buy America," said Christopher Wenk, senior director of international policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The language could violate U.S. obligations under the World Trade Organization, he said, risking possible retaliation from U.S. trading partners.
The Canadian government is already worried about the impact of a "Buy American" provision in the U.S. economic stimulus package passed by Congress in February. It says public works projects should use iron, steel and other goods made in the United States.
Ottawa says that as a result, Canadian companies are being discriminated against by U.S. state and municipal governments on some water and sewage treatment projects funded by the bill.
Two other bills that have passed the House of Representatives this year, to improve water quality and build "greener" schools, also included "Buy American" mandates.
The provision offering aid to automakers building electric cars in the United States was attached to a bill requiring reductions of industrial emissions of greenhouse gases, which passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee in May.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants the bill to pass the full House in June or July. Its fate is uncertain in the Senate.
Adam Benson, spokesman for one of the lawmakers who inserted the provision, Representative John Dingell of Michigan, said it was written to comply with trade laws and wasn't specific to the "Big Three" U.S. automakers, General Motors Corp,, Ford Motor and Chrysler LLC.
But, Wenk pointed out the wording called for the cars to be developed and built in the United States, which he said was likely to preclude a foreign company if its research and development took place abroad.

Source: Reuters
 

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