The Essence of Politics

Thursday, July 30, 2009

New jobless claims rise more than expected--By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, AP Economics Writer

The number of newly laid-off workers filing first-time claims for jobless benefits rose last week, the government said, though the increase was mostly due to seasonal distortions.

Many economists say new claims, which track layoffs and firings, are trending downward in a modest sign of improvement in the labor market.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the initial claims for unemployment aid rose by 25,000 to a seasonally adjusted 584,000, above analysts' estimates. But the figure is below the 617,000 new claims filed in late June, before the numbers began to be distorted by a shift in the timing of temporary auto shutdowns.

The four-week average of claims, which smooths out fluctuations, fell to 559,000, its lowest level since late January. And the number of people remaining on the jobless benefit rolls unexpectedly fell to 6.2 million from 6.25 million, the lowest level since mid-April.

"The latest report is actually reasonably good news," Abiel Reinhart, an economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co., wrote in a client note. "Obviously, claims are still high ... but things appear to be gradually improving."

Stocks surged in morning trading as investors welcomed both the new data on jobless claims and better-than-expected earnings. The Dow Jones industrial average rose about 170 points, or 1.9 percent, and broader stock averages also jumped.

Still, jobs remain scarce and the unemployment rate, which hit 9.5 percent for June, is expected to surpass 10 percent by year's end.

Weekly claims remain far above the 300,000 to 350,000 that analysts say is consistent with a healthy economy. New claims last fell below 300,000 in early 2007. The lowest level this year was 488,000 for the week ended Jan. 3.

The increase in initial claims last week was mostly due to seasonal distortions, stemming from a move by auto companies to shut their plants earlier than usual this year. Car makers normally close their factories in early July and temporarily lay off thousands of workers as they retool plants to build new car models.

This year, those shutdowns happened in May and June as General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC closed plants after filing for bankruptcy protection. That shift in timing caused new claims to fall sharply in the first two weeks of July.

Claims have now rebounded from that artificial decline, a Labor Department analyst said, and next week's numbers aren't expected to be affected.

The recession, which began in December 2007 and is the longest since World War II, has eliminated a net total of 6.5 million jobs. The unemployment rate is expected to rise to 9.7 percent when the July figure is reported next week.

More job cuts were announced this week. Verizon Communications Inc. said Monday that it would cut more than 8,000 employee and contractor jobs before the end of the year.

Among the states, California had the biggest increase in claims, with 4,290, which it attributed to increased layoffs in the construction and trade industries. Michigan, Florida, Connecticut and Indiana had the next-largest increases. State data lags behind initial claims data by one week.

New York had the largest drop in claims, with 22,052, which it said was due to fewer layoffs in the service and transportation industries. Wisconsin, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Ohio had the next largest declines.

Democrats aim for new vote on food safety law--By Charles Abbott

House Democratic leaders may try for the second time in two days on Thursday to pass a sweeping reform of the U.S. food safety system that would step up federal inspection of foodmakers.

The bill, drafted in response to recent outbreaks of illnesses linked to peanut butter, spinach and peppers, would give the Food and Drug Administration the power to order food recalls, require facilities to have a food safety plan in place and give FDA more access to company records.

Representatives defeated the bill on Wednesday, when it was debated under special rules that limited debate to 40 minutes but required a two-thirds majority for passage. The vote of 280-150 fell short of the 288 needed to pass.

Democratic leaders listed the bill for possible debate on Thursday under a format that would require only a simple majority for passage, or 218 votes if all lawmakers are present. Like Wednesday, no amendments would be allowed.

Senior Democrats said they made revisions to assure the bill would not bury small farmers or small food stands in paperwork and to exempt small operators from the $500 a year registration fee that would be charged for large processing plants.

"For instance, the substitute amendment provides that farms, including those that process food and feed that they sell to other farms or primarily directly to consumers, do not have to register or pay. In addition, retail food establishments that sell products directly to consumers also do not have to register or pay," said the Rules Committee in proposing to limit the bill to one hour of debate.

Rural lawmakers led the opposition to the bill on Wednesday with objections that small farmers or vendors at farmers markets would be treated the same as multinational companies.

A section of the bill dealing with fresh produce was modified so FDA would issue standards only for the riskiest types of products.

The registration fees would generate an estimated $189 million a year to pay for more FDA inspectors and other food safety work.

(Reporting by Charles Abbott; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

House committee moving on health bill--By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR and ERICA WERNER, Associated Press Writers

Action on a sweeping health care overhaul bill has resumed in the House after a week-and-a-half delay caused by objections from fiscally conservative Democrats.

As Chairman Henry Waxman of California restarted the Energy and Commerce Committee's voting session Thursday morning, he warned lawmakers against offering amendments that make the bill more expensive.

Waxman broke the impasse with the so-called Blue Dog Democrats when he agreed to changes designed to hold down costs, exempt additional businesses from requirements to provide health insurance, and change the shape of a proposed government insurance option.

He said he hopes to finish voting on the bill sometime Friday.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional Democrats are determined to show progress on a health care overhaul by pushing President Barack Obama's top domestic priority through two critically important committees before they head home for their August break.

They're closer, but they're not there yet.

Democratic leaders in the House won agreement from conservatives on the Energy and Commerce Committee that would allow that panel to start voting on legislation as early as Thursday. In the Senate, negotiators on the Finance Committee say they are nearer to a bipartisan compromise that has eluded them for weeks.

The Finance panel and the Energy and Commerce panel are seen as pivotal tests of prospects for the legislation because they reflect the broader composition of the Senate and the House. Three other committees that have already passed versions of the legislation are dominated by Democratic liberals.

The earliest that floor votes could occur would be in September.

The House bill and the plan under negotiation in the Senate are designed to meet Obama's goals of spreading health coverage to millions who now lack it, while trying to slow the skyrocketing growth in medical costs. As recently as two weeks ago, Obama was pressing the House and Senate to pass separate bills by the end of July or early August. After Republicans and moderate Democrats objected to the rush, the president said he'd settle for just progress.

Wednesday in the House, Democratic leaders gave in — at least temporarily — to numerous demands from rank-and-file rebels from the conservative wing of the party. The so-called Blue Dog Democrats had been blocking the bill's passage in Energy and Commerce.

The House changes, which drew immediate opposition from liberal lawmakers, would steer away from using Medicare as the blueprint for a proposed government insurance option, reduce federal subsidies to help lower-income families afford coverage, and exempt additional businesses from a requirement to offer health insurance to their workers.

Bipartisan Senate negotiators reported progress on legislation that aims to cover 95 percent of Americans without raising federal deficits.

"We're on the edge, we're almost there," said Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican involved in the secretive talks, although a fellow GOP participant, Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, dissented strongly.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Finance Committee, said preliminary estimates from congressional budget experts showed the cost of the emerging Senate plan was below $900 billion and would result in an increase in employer-sponsored insurance — conclusions that may reassure critics who fear a bloated bill that prompts businesses to abandon the coverage they currently provide.

Congressional officials said Baucus was able to get the cost under $1 trillion because his bill includes only the cost of the first year of a 10-year, $245 billion program to increase doctor fees under Medicare. House Democrats used a similar sleight of hand, excluding the entire $245 billion when claiming their measure wouldn't add to the deficit.

The White House praised the developments in the House. At appearances in North Carolina and Virginia, the president sought to minimize the significance of the slippage in his timetable.

"We did give them a deadline, and sort of we missed that deadline. But that's OK," Obama said. "We don't want to just do it quickly, we want to do it right."

Campaigning for the health care overhaul, Obama stressed that any legislation he signs will include numerous consumer protections, including a ban on insurance company denials of coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions. A White House fact sheet left room for insurers to continue charging higher premiums based on prior health problems.

Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas, a leader of the Blue Dogs, said the changes agreed to by the leadership in the House bill would cut its cost by about $100 billion over 10 years.

The House deal was worked out over hours of talks that involved not only Democratic leaders but also White House officials eager to advance the bill. Senior congressional aides cast it as a temporary accommodation, saying leaders had not committed to support it once the bill advances to the floor of the House in the fall.

As word of the agreement spread, liberals fired back. "We do not support this," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., co-chair of the Progressive Caucus. "I think they have no idea how many people are against this. They can't possibly be taking us seriously if they're going to bring this forward."

Plans to convene the Energy and Commerce Committee for a vote slipped until Thursday as leaders sought to allay concerns of liberals.

"We just need to get everybody on board," said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., who chairs the panel's subcommittee on health.

In the Senate, the pace of negotiations appears to have accelerated in recent days, with lawmakers all but settling on a tax on high-cost insurance plans to help pay for the bill, as well as a new mechanism designed to curtail the growth of Medicare over the next 10 years and beyond.

More problematic from the point of view of most Democrats is a tentative agreement to omit a provision in which the government would sell insurance in competition with private industry. In its place, the group is expected to recommend nonprofit cooperatives that could operate at the state, regional or even national level.

Nor is any bipartisan recommendation likely to include a requirement for large businesses to offer insurance to their workers. Instead, they would have a choice between offering coverage or paying a portion of any government subsidy that noninsured employees would receive.

Like the House bill, the bipartisan proposal under discussion would expand eligibility for Medicaid to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

It provides for federal subsidies for individuals and families up to 300 percent of poverty, less than the 400 percent in the House measure.

Even if the negotiations succeed before the Senate's vacation, which starts next week, it isn't clear when the Finance Committee would vote.

Associated Press writers Liz Sidoti, Alan Fram and David Espo contributed to this report.

What to learn in Obama's 'teachable' race moment?--By JESSE WASHINGTON, AP National Writer

You can't solve a problem if you don't discuss it.

That's why some say that despite all the accusations and emotions hindering the resolution of the Henry Louis Gates Jr. imbroglio, there is opportunity for racial progress in President Barack Obama's "teachable moment" sitdown with Gates and Sgt. James Crowley.

"If nothing else, it's an important national symbol of a discussion that needs to be held," said Clarence B. Jones, once a confidant of Martin Luther King Jr. and author of "What Would Martin Say?"

"If it's just regarded as the president bringing two guys together to clear the air, then it's meaningless," said Jones. "But if it's really intended to say in effect to the country, 'Look, the difficulties that occurred here are really emblematic of deeper issues,' it can work."

Beyond the symbolic, the meeting is an opportunity for the white cop, the black Harvard scholar and the biracial president "to say that they're wrong when they are wrong, to learn from one another's perspective as opposed to defending their own perspective," said Tali Hairston, director of the John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training and Community Development at Seattle Pacific University.

Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree, an attorney for Gates, said they hoped to settle the dispute and "create a springboard for a larger discussion about how law enforcement interacts with minority communities and how we can figure out a way to both enforce the law but also protect civil liberties and civil rights."

Obama stabbed a raw nerve when he said police acted "stupidly" in arresting Gates at his own home. Gates was charged with disorderly conduct for protesting Crowley's actions during a burglary investigation; the charge was dropped.

Obama quickly realized his mistake and sought to calm a national outburst of anger and avoid political repercussions. He praised Crowley, said both men had overreacted and invited them to share a beer at the White House.

Now, after mostly avoiding race issues, Obama may have stumbled into a role he was destined to play.

"Inadvertently, he may be the teacher," said Dorothy Miller, chair of the Race and Reconciliation Dialogue Group at the Saint Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh.

"He may end up the teacher even though he precipitated that remark" and has avoided race, Miller said. "Because of his evenness, Obama may be the teacher, and get both sides together. He has evolved to become the teacher."

Said Jones: "Obama may be uncomfortable with it, he may not have wanted it, but it goes with his portfolio. Now that he's elected, that's the leadership that is required if he wants to move beyond this issue in America."

Others say that for the Gates affair to create real change, the leadership has to come from the ground up.

"If we want this true racial reconciliation, and it's good that President Obama is making the first step to show others, now you start within your own community," said Stacey LaCompte, executive director of the Wakpa Sica Reconciliation Place in South Dakota, which works to improve race relations for the Sioux Nation.

"It's within ourselves if we really want to see and accomplish these things," she said.

We also should look to young people, Hairston said.

"When we listen to them about this situation, they're dumbfounded," he said. "They're befuddled. They have no idea why this is all over television. And that should tell us a lot.

"As much as I love President Obama, I think he is one of the students here. I think he's learning a lot about what does it mean to sit down and have a beer with two guys around this issue. I think he's learning a lot about saying the police acted stupidly."

For many people, the Gates arrest only hardened their convictions that black people are too quick to cry racism, or that white police routinely mistreat black citizens. If Gates and Crowley emerge from the meeting and continue to insist that the other man was at fault, the teachable moment could be lost.

"No apologies will be expected or conveyed tomorrow," Gates' lawyer, Ogletree, said late Wednesday. "The idea is to extend an opportunity for people to meet others that they didn't know and they only met in the most tense of circumstances."

Others say the biggest lessons have already been delivered — that racism still haunts America even after Obama's election, or that racism has declined so much a black man can insult a white cop and live to make a documentary about it.

And maybe all this still has to sink into a nation that, less than two years ago, could barely grasp the idea of a president who wasn't white.

"Because of the past history of black people in the United States, they carry a whole burden of the past, it is so easy for them to believe things are racist," said Miller, of the Pittsburgh reconciliation group.

"In most cases, in many cases, they are. But in this case it turned out that it could be just a confrontation between two men who both lost their temper. So I think we can learn that we still have much to learn about racism."

(This version CORRECTS that Obama said police acted stupidly.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Backlash: Dem dangers mount--By Charles Mahtesian, Josh Kraushaar

Democrats giddy with possibilities only six months ago now confront a perilous 2010 landscape signaled by troublesome signs of President Barack Obama’s political mortality, the plunging popularity of many governors and rising disquiet among many vulnerable House Democrats.

The issue advantage has shifted as well, with Democrats facing the brunt of criticism about the pace of stimulus package spending, anxiety over rising unemployment rates and widespread uneasiness over the twin pillars of Obama’s legislative agenda: his cap-and-trade approach to climate change and the emerging health care bill.

Bolstered by historical trends that work in the GOP’s favor — midterm elections are typically hostile to the party in power — and the prospect of the first election in a decade without former President George W. Bush either on the ballot or in office, Republicans find themselves on the offensive for the first time since 2004.

None of this is to say that the Democratic congressional majorities are in serious jeopardy. The GOP has suffered some significant setbacks, ranging from headline-grabbing personal indiscretions to Sen. Arlen Specter’s party switch, and it continues to be plagued by an inability to present its own new ideas.

Yet the possibilities GOP officials now imagine are a dramatic shift from the bleak prospects that the 2010 midterm elections presented for the party at the beginning of the year.

Back then, the newly elected president was fresh off a sweeping victory and riding a wave of inaugural goodwill. The Republican Party’s standing had seemingly hit rock bottom in the polls. The enormous Democratic House majority looked unassailable, and the party’s advantage in the Senate looked nearly as formidable, with the GOP forced to defend more Senate seats in total in 2010 than Democrats — a predicament exacerbated by a handful of Republican retirements in key battleground states.

“There’s a sense building among Republicans that 2010 is going to be a far better political environment than 2008 or 2006,” said GOP pollster Whit Ayres. “Part of that is because we have a Democratic president and a Democratic-controlled Senate and House that are promoting fiscally dangerous policies for the future of the country. Part of it is we don’t have the burden of Iraq as we did in 2006 and don’t have the economy on the Republicans’ watch as we had in 2008.”

In one sign of the reconfigured landscape, Republican candidates lead in the polls in this fall’s closely watched gubernatorial elections — in New Jersey and Virginia. In New Jersey, where first-term Democrat Gov. Jon Corzine trails his challenger by double digits, a far-reaching corruption investigation has led to the resignation of one member of Corzine’s Cabinet and insider speculation about whether Corzine should be replaced on the ticket in November by a more viable Democratic nominee.

Corzine, who has shown no indication he’s willing or interested in stepping down, isn’t the only Democratic governor buffeted by the political winds. A handful of Democrats whose seats are up for election in 2010, including Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, have recently seen their approval ratings plummet below 40 percent — dangerous territory for an incumbent.

In New York, Gov. David Paterson faces similarly daunting numbers, and other first-term Democratic governors from Ohio to Iowa to Colorado have also seen their approval ratings move in the wrong direction. In Pennsylvania, a recent Quinnipiac University poll reported Gov. Ed Rendell with the lowest approval rating of his two terms in office.

“What’s hurting the Democrats badly is that people are afraid of the deficit and spending. They don’t see signs of economic growth, and people are worried,” said GOP pollster John McLaughlin. “If you look at the economy right now, voters gave the Democrats benefit of the doubt, they thought the stimulus would work, employment would recede — and they’re finding out now it’s not the case.”

The polls tell only part of the story. National Republicans have recently met with success in persuading a number of top recruits to commit to 2010 races that not so long ago looked considerably less attractive — the surest signal that potential GOP candidates view the playing field as less tilted against them than just a few months earlier.

One of them, former state Sen. Steve Stivers — who lost narrowly to Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio) in 2008 — announced he’d seek a rematch earlier this month, citing the growing debt and Ohio’s double-digit unemployment rate.

Another highly sought-after GOP recruit, state Sen. Alan Nunnelee, plans to declare his candidacy later this week against Rep. Travis Childers (D-Miss.), who was elected to Congress in a 2008 special-election upset. His announcement comes amid 11 percent unemployment in the congressional district, with one county’s rate running as high as 16.9 percent in June.

“They see the Congress spending at a rate we’ve not seen in years; they’re making commitments for future generations — and we’re not seeing any results,” said Nunnelee. “Somebody needs to step up and hold the Obama administration accountable.”

Former Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) also recently committed to running in 2010, putting aside his gubernatorial ambitions to try to reclaim the House seat he held for six years. His decision came on the heels of the energy and climate bill that narrowly passed the House on June 26 — an exceptionally tough vote for freshman Rep. Harry Teague (D-N.M.), who represents an oil-and-gas-producing district.

“[Teague’s] cap-and-trade vote is the thing that put my decision over the hump,” said Pearce. “There are 23,000 statewide jobs in the oil and gas industry — and if this bill is passed, this will kill many of those jobs.”

Two notable Republican Senate candidates considered uniquely suited to running in their Democratic-leaning states — former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte and Illinois Rep. Mark Kirk — also committed to running in recent weeks, in states that Obama carried easily in 2008.

Because of GOP retirements in key battleground states, Republicans will be fortunate just to hold down their losses in the Senate next year. Still, if nothing else, the outlook is not nearly as grim as in January, when Republicans were poised to defend 19 seats to just 15 for the Democrats.

Now, as a result of Obama’s and Vice President Joe Biden’s resignation from the Senate, and the appointment of two Democratic senators to Cabinet positions, both parties are now defending 18 seats each in 2010 — with Democrats defending four seats now held by appointed senators that suddenly look more competitive than they would have been otherwise.

“The fact that [Republicans] have a bunch of open seats to hold and an unfavorable map to deal with will probably serve to limit their gains,” said Republican pollster Neil Newhouse. “I think [National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John] Cornyn’s efforts will have been a tremendous success if the NRSC holds their own in the 2010 elections, setting the table for significant 2012 gains.”

For Republicans, the news isn’t entirely promising. There’s been no surge in GOP voter registration and little evidence that the party brand is experiencing a recovery. Last month, a New York Times/CBS poll reported that the GOP’s favorability ratings remained at a record-breaking low — 28 percent, down from a high of 59 percent in November 1994.

“You can’t turn around in a year what, in fact, had accumulated over the economic policies of the failed Bush policies over the past eight years,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) told POLITICO. “Their top candidates continue to be largely a throwback to the past and are embracing the out-of-touch positions Republicans have shown on the economy.”

There are other factors that stand to reset the 2010 landscape once again and return the commanding heights to the Democrats — particularly a resurgence of the economy and if Congress can point to significant legislative accomplishments.

“How the economy is doing a year from now is going to have a major impact on what the cycle is like for us,” said veteran Democratic consultant Jason Ralston, who has developed media campaigns for House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates. “It’s understandable voters are anxious. The question is, six months to a year from now, do they feel that the economy has turned the corner?”

Obama sees 'beginning of the end' of recession

The United States may be seeing "the beginning of the end of the recession," President Barack Obama said Wednesday, as the world's biggest economy combats its worst slump in decades.

"Here is what's true: we have stopped the freefall. The market is up and the financial system is no longer on the verge of collapse," Obama said, while citing improving job and home sale numbers.

"So there is no doubt that things have gotten better. We may be seeing the beginning of the end of the recession."

Speaking at a town hall in North Carolina, where unemployment is around 10 percent, Obama cautioned: "that's little comfort if you're one of the folks who lost their job and haven't found another."

He also questioned the cover of the current edition of Newsweek magazine, which pronounced that "The Recession is Over."

"I imagine that you might have found the news a little startling. I know I did," Obama said.
The United States is now losing jobs "at nearly half" the rate of when he took office in January, he added in mounting a defense of his plans to stimulate the economy.

New US home sales leapt 11 percent in June, in a further sign of recovery for the sector at the epicenter of the global financial crisis, according to government data. Sales of new single-family homes also rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 384,000.

In an attempt to prod the economy back to recovery, Obama signed a 787-billion-dollar stimulus package in February aimed at ending the worst US economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The US economy has been in recession since December 2007, according to the economic panel accepted as the arbiter of business cycles.

The economy suffered a 5.5-percent pace of decline in the first quarter, on the heels of a 6.3-percent slide in the fourth quarter of 2008. But many forecasters are expecting growth to resume in the second half of 2009.

"It will take time to achieve our complete recovery," Obama acknowledged. "But there should be little debate that the steps we took, taken together, have helped stop our economic freefall."

The US Federal Reserve this month raised its outlook for 2009 and 2010 economic output, projecting a rebound in the second half of 2009 that would leave the contraction for the year at between 1.0 and 1.5 percent.

For 2010, the new Fed outlook saw growth in a range of 2.1 to 3.3 percent, slightly better than its forecast from April.

The government's first estimate for gross domestic product in the second quarter to June 30 is to be released Friday. The consensus forecast by private economists is for a 1.5-percent rate of decline.

Obama, whose favorability ratings have dipped in recent polls as Americans expressed doubt at his economic plans, also defended government bailouts of major financial companies and struggling US automakers General Motors and Chrysler, despite record public deficit numbers.

The president, who is putting his political capita in play and multiplying public appearances to defend his plans for health care reform, reminded his critics that his administration inherited a 1.3-billion-dollar deficit.

He again stressed the need for reform, while seeking to tamp down worries over his plans to overhaul the US health care system, which leaves some 47 million Americans uninsured.

Organic food is no healthier, study finds

Organic food has no nutritional or health benefits over ordinary food, according to a major study published Wednesday.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said consumers were paying higher prices for organic food because of its perceived health benefits, creating a global organic market worth an estimated $48 billion in 2007.

A systematic review of 162 scientific papers published in the scientific literature over the last 50 years, however, found there was no significant difference.

"A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs, but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance," said Alan Dangour, one of the report's authors.

"Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority."

The results of research, which was commissioned by the British government's Food Standards Agency, were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Sales of organic food have fallen in some markets, including Britain, as recession has led consumers to cut back on purchases.

The Soil Association said in April that growth in sales of organic products in Britain slowed to just 1.7 percent in 2008, well below the average annual growth rate of 26 percent over the last decade, following a plunge in demand at the end of the year.

(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; editing by Simon Jessop)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

4 Ways to Tell When a Real Recovery Has Begun--By Rick Newman

June 16, 2009

You could conclude just about anything from the daily cavalcade of economic statistics. Some suggest an imminent recovery. Others seem to foretell years of gloom. The bent of the expert interpreting the latest news—bull, bear, Obama-basher, Wall Street-hater—has as much to do with the outlook as the numbers themselves.

For the foreseeable future, there will be an aggressive hunt for two economic recoveries. One is the technical improvement in economic indicators that signals the economy is growing again. That's the one economists care about, which is why they scour the numbers on retail sales, business inventories, purchasing manager sentiment, subatomic inflation, the mood in Shanghai, and anything else that could help pinpoint the exact inflection point for a turnaround.

The other recovery, the one that most consumers are waiting for, is the one in which companies stop firing and start hiring, banks return to normal lending, and families stop worrying about jobs and income. And that turnaround—the consumer recovery—is likely to take much longer to materialize than the technical recovery.

[See why you're going to save more, like it or not.]

The danger of hyping a technical recovery is that it will arrive, with much fanfare—but fail to make ordinary consumers feel better off. Many economists, for example, are predicting that the recession will officially end by this summer or fall. The only problem is that when a technical recovery begins, a lot of companies fail to get the memo. They don't play along; they keep payrolls lean and maybe even continuing to lay off workers. So to guard against false optimism, here's how to tell when a real recovery is finally kicking into gear:

Unemployment improves. The single best indicator of the health of the economy is the job market. People who have lost their job, or worry that they might, obviously hoard their money and don't spend. That spells doom for an economy driven by consumer spending, as ours is. But once it's clear that jobs are coming back, consumers are more likely to relax and open their wallets.

[See the upside of economic carnage.]

Projections about unemployment should make anybody queasy about the prospects for a recovery this year. The unemployment rate is currently 9.4 percent, a steep rise from one year ago, when it was an unremarkable 5.5 percent. And by most accounts, it's going to get worse. The International Monetary Fund expects the U.S. unemployment rate to be 10.1 percent in 2010. Economist Gary Shilling thinks unemployment will hit 11.4 percent and not peak until late next year.

It's hard to imagine a "recovery" in which jobs are even more scarce than they are now. When the unemployment rate finally starts to go in the other direction, we can start to think about putting the umbrellas away. Until then, no number of upticks or volume of optimistic talk will persuade Americans worried about their jobs that they should part with precious cash.

Housing prices stabilize. This has become a mantra by now: For the economy to get healthy, housing prices must stop falling. Problem is, the houses haven't been listening.

Housing matters for two reasons: It represents a big chunk of the economy, and it's the largest single repository of Americans' household wealth. With prices falling, buyers are scarce, since nobody wants to buy an expensive good today if it's going to be worth less tomorrow. With few buyers, all the other economic activity that swirls around real estate—remodeling, appliance and furniture sales, relocation services—is depressed. Homeowners are worse off, too, because the value of one of their vital assets is eroding.

[See how businesses can prosper, even now.]

House prices have already fallen by 32 percent nationwide from the 2006 peak. And they have further to go. The latest readings on the S&P/Case-Schiller home price index, one prominent measure, showed another record decline in May. At some point, the declines will moderate and stop being records. But prices need to stop falling altogether, and probably rise, for a real recovery to happen. The Federal Reserve thinks home prices could stop falling in 2010, after a total decline of 41 to 48 percent. Other metrics, like housing starts and new-home sales, might point upward before then. Those will be signs of signs of a turnaround, not the real thing.

Household wealth increases. The housing bust and the volatile stock market have hammered the traditional investment tools that most Americans use, causing epic declines in the wealth of Americans. Since 2006, household net worth has declined by about $12 trillion, which equates to about $107,000 of lost wealth for each of America's 112 million households. That's partly because of the 40 percent plunge in the stock market since October 2007 and partly because of the steep declines in real estate values.

Americans simply own less, too. Home equity for the typical homeowner is just 41.1 percent, a record low. In 2002, it was 58.4 percent. Owning less means we owe more and will have to rebuild savings before we can spend like we used to. "This will be a drag on all discretionary purchases," says Dirk van Dijk, an analyst at Zacks Investment Research who thinks the tightfistedness will cut into the earnings of firms ranging from hotel chains to furniture makers to motorcycle manufacturers. Those are the same kinds of companies that need to start hiring again for a real recovery to develop. But they won't if sales stay sluggish. A turnaround will require sustained stock market gains and an end to the housing bust.

President Obama stops fudging on the economy. There's still a lot that could go wrong, and Obama knows it. Yet part of the president's job is to reassure skittish Americans, even as his economic lieutenants are fighting battles in the war room. That's why Obama has been making half-hearted pronouncements, like saying that the economy shows "some return to normalcy" and that "we expect there'll be some stabilization of the economy." Virtually all of Obama's remarks on the economy contain modifiers and future tense and a not-quite-there-yet quality, since he'll blow his own credibility if he tries to convince Americans that they're better off than they actually are. When Obama starts hedging less, be happy. That will signal better days. Finally.

What Obama Must Do Before Stimulus II—By Rick Newman

July 09, 2009

Imagine President Obama addressing the nation on prime-time television and saying, "The government has done enough to bail out the economy. You're all on your own now."

He very well could. The total federal commitment to fiscal stimulus, corporate rescues, homeowner relief, and various other bailouts is nearly $10 trillion (that's $10,000,000,000,000) over who knows how many years. You'd think that might be enough. But the economy is still lousy, unemployment is soaring, and Vice President Joe Biden now says the Obamanauts "misread how bad the economy was" when planning their recovery package earlier this year.

Biden wasn't just flapping his restless mouth. By issuing a quasi mea culpa on the economy, he was starting an official discussion about another round of stimulus spending, which would actually be the third in this recession. (Remember George Bush's $150 billion worth of tax rebates in 2008?) It's obvious that the economy still needs help, and it's the government's job, more or less, to aid its citizens. But there's one kind of stimulus that Obama and virtually every other politician have completely avoided so far: a plea for greater self-reliance.

[See how to tell when a real recovery begins.]

The government has the power to contain the damage from an economic meltdown. It can help people in need. We've even learned that the government can run entire industries—for a while. But no government can create a vital economy. There have been plenty of deep downturns in America's economic history, and the nation has always rebounded thanks to industrious people working like hell to improve their lives and find better ways to get things done. Bailouts are a relatively new phenomenon, with mixed results at best. Personal determination has a much better track record.

There are plenty of factors that could suppress our economic growth for years. Overcoming them will require relentless innovation, which is an overused and poorly understood word. We tend to think of innovation as massively expensive laboratory projects that lead to new cancer drugs or complex software. But it can also be something as simple as a home-built website, a new community group, or a simple observation that saves your company a couple of steps and a few bucks.

[See why the smarter you are, the more you work.]

People who innovate don't wait for other people to solve problems. They tackle problems themselves. Many Americans are doing this right now: trying to start their own small business after getting laid off, using the Internet to reach people in different ways, staying up late trying to think of ways their company or their family can save money and stay solvent a little longer.

But are there enough? I have my doubts. Stimulus spending may ultimately be helpful, but it has also sent the message that it's the job of government, not citizens, to solve economic problems. A lot of people who live in dying manufacturing towns probably need to move to areas with more jobs, but there's not much sign of that. The prevailing economic question seems to be when Americans will stop this damned saving and start buying multiple cars and TVs again. Obama has dampened expectations of a quick economic recovery, but he hasn't asked Americans to re-examine their overconsumption or accept privations while spending their time or money to better themselves.

[See why you're going to save more, like it or not.]

There are other ways to promote smart economics. "The general message should be 'You need to redouble your efforts to be more competitive,' " says Mauro Guillen of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. "People need to invest more in their own future. Instead of buying stuff at the mall, spend the money on evening classes. Learn a language or skills you don't have. Join debates in your town on the right way to spend education money."

Those kinds of steps are necessary not just to reboot the American economy but to take on other nations like India and China where many people work harder, score higher on tests, and expect less for their efforts than we do. We feel entitled to a high standard of living, but we're not. And we'll lose it if Americans get in the habit of waiting for somebody else to solve their problems. We're already losing it, in fact, thanks to a thrashing recession that's leveling out our lifestyles.

Obama probably knows this, but he doesn't want to become the national nag and end up a one-termer like Jimmy Carter, the last president who tried to pester Americans about personal responsibility. It's easier to spend more money than challenge people to change their behavior. Maybe it will even work. Oh ... how ... stimulating.

6 Small Steps Toward a More Normal Economy--By Rick Newman

July 17, 2009

The Great Economic Recovery Hunt has been underway for about half a year, and the quarry bag is still pretty empty. A few optimists have tried to wring hope from fuzzy statistics showing that retail sales or housing starts or some other indicator aren’t as bad as they could be. But with the unemployement rate at 9.5 percent and going higher, that’s been unconvincing.

A recovery that will actually feel like one is probably a year away, at best. But we may finally be seeing signs that some parts of the economy are turning the corner. Here are six:

Booming bank profits. Goldman Sachs earned a scorching $3.3 billion in the second quarter. JP Morgan Chase earned $2.7 billion. Citigroup and Bank of American reported less impressive numbers, but each still turned a profit despite mounting losses on consumer loans. To be clear, the banks’ profits have been subsidized by the government’s TARP program and a bunch of other emergency measures meant to provide very cheap capital to the banks. And it’s obviously problematic that a few Wall Street banks are earning a fortune with taxpayer assistance. But the whole financial bailout was intended, first of all, to get the nation’s financial system back on its feet. One toe at a time, it’s happening. The real test is whether a healthier financial system will help the broader economy recover—or bankers just gorge on the profits, keeping loans as tight as ever.

[See America’s most endangered malls.]

CIT’s lonesome meltdown. Last fall, the feds were so panicky about the economy that just about any bank in a whiff of trouble got bailout funds. The CIT case suggests that the bailout spigot is finally closing. CIT Group is a nonbank lender that services a lot of small- and medium-sized businesses. It’s lost almost $3 billion over the last year and is at risk of declaring bankruptcy. So far, despite company pleas, the government has refused to toss a life preserver. If CIT goes belly-up, it could harm hundreds or thousands of businesses dependent on its loans. But unlike last fall, the government isn’t jumping in just to prevent borrowers and investors from worrying. We already have systems designed to deal with failing companies, like the bankruptcy process and FDIC takeovers. Letting those run their course might cause some pain, but it’s a sign that the system is once again working the way it’s supposed to.

The Federal Reserve’s reality check. The Fed has finally joined the mainstream in its outlook for job losses, after months of optimistic projections that seemed out of touch with the real economy. The latest Fed projections are for the unemployment rate to range from 9.8 percent to 10.1 percent for all of 2009, which means it will peak at some number higher than that over the next few months. The Fed’s prior forecast was about 0.6 points lower. It’s not good news that the Fed sees a worse job outlook than it did a few months ago. But the Fed’s rosy numbers were falling behind reality, making its projections seem more like government propaganda than the combined wisdom of the nation’s economic cognoscenti. More realistic numbers give the Fed’s outlook more credibility—and that is good news, especially since the Fed board members also predict that economic growth for the rest of the year will be a bit stronger than they believed a few months ago. It would be nice to believe that.

[See 8 industries that will sit out a recovery.]

The glacial P-PIP rollout. Relax. You’re forgiven if you can’t remember—or never knew—what the government’s Public-Private Investment Partnership was supposed to do. This is the plan to subsidize the purchase of “toxic assets” (now lovingly known as “legacy assets”) from banks, to get the worst money-losing investments off their books so they’ll start lending money again. It’s a complicated program funded by—you guessed it—taxpayer money, with dubious prospects that the money will be returned. Anyway, the P-PIP isn’t officially dead, but it hasn’t kicked off yet either, and it’s a couple of months past the original estimated start date. It turns out most banks have been able to raise money on their own, which could eliminate the need for yet another government life-support program. If P-PIP fades away with little notice, few will complain.

500 failed banks. Don’t’ worry, they haven’t failed yet, but FDIC chief Sheila Bair may have told a group of senators that 500 additional banks could close before the financial meltdown is over. That’s according to Republican Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky. The FDIC typically doesn’t predict bank failures, and an FDIC spokesperson has been downplaying the number and saying Bunning got it wrong. But it’s plausible. Many more banks than that failed during the S&L bust of the ‘80s and ‘90s, and even 500 failures would constitute a small chunk of the 8,000 or so banks in the United States. Here’s the important thing: Last fall, a rumor like this would have sent the markets plunging. This time, the markets didn’t even notice.

[See 11 places with a worse economy than ours.]

Action at AIG. The disaster-prone insurance giant recently sold a car-insurance division for nearly $2 billion, and it’s rumored to be close to selling its valuable American Life Insurance Co., or Alico, to MetLife, for $15 billion or more. This is great news for taxpayers who have lent AIG more than $80 billion so it can wind down its business without triggering a panic. The only way for taxpayers to recoup their money is for AIG to sell off its assets at the best possible price. Since last fall, the only bidders have been bargain-hunters hoping for fire-sale discounts. But a thaw in the credit markets has finally brought out serious deal-seekers. We could even see bidding wars for some AIG assets. Ah, the good ol’ days.

11 Places With a Worse Economy Than Ours--By Rick Newman

11 Places With a Worse Economy Than Ours--By Rick Newman
July 10, 2009

When times are tough, one thing that tends to raise the spirits is knowing that somebody else has it worse. And as wretched as the U.S. economy seems, it's not as bad as in other regions.

The International Monetary Fund's latest tally of world economic conditions forecasts a 2.6 decline in U.S. economic output for all of 2009, and anemic growth of 0.8 percent in 2010. That's more optimistic than the IMF's prediction from three months ago, but those are still lousy numbers. A weak economy throughout 2010 would mean a bleak employment picture, an agonizingly slow housing recovery, and another year or two likely to feel like a recession, whether it's technically labeled that or not.

[See what Obama must do before Stimulus II.]

We should count ourselves lucky, though. The IMF expects at least 11 major parts of the world to have more severe economic contractions than the United State this year, including most of western Europe, Japan, Russia, and Mexico. Europe will still be stumbling along behind the United States next year, as well. Here are the IMF's projections for economic growth in various parts of the world:

2009 2010
China 7.5 8.5
India 5.4 6.5
Middle East 2.0 3.7
Africa 1.8 4.7
Brazil -1.3 2.5
World total -1.4 2.5
Canada -2.3 1.6
U.S. -2.6 0.8
France -3.0 0.4
Spain -4.0 -0.8
U.K. -4.2 0.2
European Union - 4.7 -0.1
Central/Eastern Europe -5.0 1.0
Italy -5.1 -0.1
Japan -6.0 1.7
Germany -6.2 -0.6
Russia -6.5 1.5
Mexico -7.3 3.0

If these projections come true, it means the United States, despite its overspent consumers, wrecked banks, and insolvent automakers, will be leading the world economy out of recession. Somehow. The developing world will help, but those high growth projections in China and India can be deceiving. China in particular has government policies that practically mandate high growth, and 8.5 percent in 2010 would be just about the bare minimum to keep employment at tolerable levels. And neither China nor India is a major buyer of American-made goods and services; for the most part, it's the other way around. With much of the developed world trailing the United States, it will take American consumers to ratchet up demand for the world's products. Scary thought.

[See how to tell when a real recovery begins.]

The IMF does offer a bit of more heartening news: The global wipeout finally seems to be receding. "The world economy is stabilizing," the IMF reports. Its global economic growth projection of 2.5 percent in 2010 is 0.6 points higher than predicted in April. But the global economy isn't expected to gain its footing in earnest until the second half of 2010. Maybe by then American spenders will have come out of hiding.

America's Most Profitable Malls--By Rick Newman

June 26, 2009

Everybody knows that American shoppers have cut back their spending, driving some retailers—and even some malls—out of business. But commerce hasn't ground to a complete halt, and Americans are still spending on some things. Somewhere.

[Slideshow: America's Most Profitable Malls]

Using data from Green Street Advisors, an investment research firm in Newport Beach, Calif., that specializes in publicly owned real estate companies, U.S. News identified malls in which the retail economy is relatively healthy. While bargain shopping is obviously popular, the nation's most profitable shopping centers generally don't rely on discounters. Instead, they tend to feature chains with a strong brand identity, like Nordstrom, Abercrombie & Fitch, Apple, and Anthropologie. Since it's all about real estate, location is vital: The best malls tend to be in densely populated areas or tourist hotspots. And it sure helps if local residents are affluent.

[See America's most endangered malls.]

The data we analyzed includes sales, occupancy rates, and quality grades for about 650 of America's biggest shopping centers. All of these properties post average sales of about $420 per square foot, and the average occupancy rate is 92 percent. That earns an A- grade. The 10 malls at the top of the list perform much better, with sales well above $600 per square foot and occupancy rates of 94 percent or higher. And each earns an A+ from Green Street for its performance and the quality of its tenants. Here's where shoppers are still spending money:

Ala Moana, Honolulu, Hawaii. (Occupancy rate: 95 percent*; sales per square foot: $1,125). This upscale shopping mecca near Waikiki is a gold mine, with annual sales of more than $1 billion. While other malls are struggling to hang onto tenants, Ala Moana recently added a new wing with 30 additional retailers.

Fashion Valley Mall, San Diego, Calif. (99 percent; $810*). A-list retailers like Nordstrom, Coach, Tiffany, and Cheesecake Factory help distinguish open-air Fashion Valley from other nearby shopping centers. A prime location and easy access to two highways drive well-heeled shoppers to San Diego's most upscale mall.

Forum Shops at Caesars, Las Vegas, Nevada. (100 percent; $1,400*). This faux-Roman complex on the Vegas strip is an attraction in and of itself, with a spiral escalator, lavish reflecting pool, and other monuments to, well, America's retailing geniuses. It also seems to be where lucky gamblers come to spend their winnings: With sales per square foot of $1,400, Forum Shops may be the most profitable shopping center in the United States.

[See how to tell if a mall is in trouble.]

Westfield Garden State Plaza, Paramus, N.J. (95 percent; $702). A choice location in the suburbs about 15 miles west of New York City puts this mall—New Jersey's biggest—within easy driving distance of more than 1 million prosperous consumers. A recent renovation and a slate of top-tier merchants helps keep the cash registers ringing.

Mall at Millenia, Orlando, Fla. (94 percent*; $1,000). Business from tourists helps offset a soft local economy at this luxury mall that's just 15 minutes from Disney World. Huge video displays highlight fashion trends from New York, Paris, and Milan, while strong retailers include the only Bloomingdale's and Neiman Marcus stores in the region. A nearby Ikea isn't part of the mall, but it helps draw shoppers.

The Mall at Short Hills, Short Hills, N.J. (94 percent*; $1,000*). Wealthy shoppers who don't feel like trekking to Manhattan, 20 miles away, appreciate this blend of upscale stores closer to home. Short Hills includes 42 retailers found nowhere else in New Jersey, and it's one of only two malls that host Saks, Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Nordstrom, and Neiman Marcus under one roof. No wonder shoppers spend so much money here.

[See some restaurants that are on the ropes.]

Queens Center, Elmhurst, N.Y. (98 percent; $876). There's no Saks or Neiman's, but this suburban-style mall located smack in the middle of Queens has something many other malls don't: a subway stop. Lots of buses, too. Mass transportation and a location just off the Long Island Expressway help bring the masses to this shopper's retreat.

Roosevelt Field, Garden City, N.Y. (96 percent; $810*). There are 30 shoe sellers, 20 restaurants, and four department stores at this mega mall, the biggest in New York. It's packed with shoppers, too, thanks to its location in the densely populated Long Island suburbs close to New York City.

Westfield San Francisco Centre, San Francisco, Calif. (95 percent; $675). The parking stinks, but this high-end complex located two blocks from Union Square—the biggest urban shopping center in the western United States—enjoys a great location and strong merchants like Nordstrom and Bloomingdales. A recent renovation makes it a pleasant stop in one of America's top destination cities.

[See why more companies are likely to fail this year.]

Scottsdale Fashion Square, Scottsdale, Ariz. (95 percent; $618). When it's too hot to go outside—which is often—Arizonans shop, and Fashion Square has a number of stores, like Neiman-Marcus, Burberry, and Jimmy Choo, that are found nowhere else in the state. The housing bust has hammered Arizona, but Scottsdale is still one of the nation's fastest-growing cities, with high incomes to match. Barney's New York, coming to Scottsdale in the fall, will mark another first for Arizona.

* Where noted with an asterisk, figures are Green Street estimates.

America's Most Endangered Malls--By Rick Newman

June 26, 2009

Birmingham's Century Plaza mall was a consumer mecca when it opened in 1971, drawing shoppers from outlying suburbs and even from other states. Over the years, however, people moved outward from central Birmingham, and new shopping centers sprouted around them. Sales at Century Plaza declined. Three of the mall's four big "anchor" tenants eventually left, and smaller retailers followed. By 2008, Century Plaza was a shadowy hulk with more shuttered stores than open ones. Then the last anchor tenant, Sears, announced it was leaving. The mall finally closed for good in early June.

[Slideshow: America's Most Endangered Malls]

Malls have a natural lifespan, as population centers shift, architecture evolves, and shopping habits change. But a sharp recession is clearly accelerating the demise of vulnerable retailers—and some of the shopping centers they inhabit. Plunging sales are one obvious reason. Many retailers are also saddled with heavy debt taken on in recent years to fund aggressive growth. And the credit crunch has made cash scarce for firms that need it most.

Those tough conditions have already driven retailers like Circuit City, Linens 'N Things, and Steve & Barry's out of business. Other chains are closing stores and slashing costs as they fight to survive. General Growth Properties, a Chicago firm that operates more than 200 malls—and owns the remnants of Century Plaza—declared bankruptcy in April and is working on a restructuring plan.

[See America's most profitable malls.]

The churn is transforming America's retail landscape. "During times like this, good malls tend to get better and bad malls tend to get worse," says Steve Sterrett, chief financial officer of Simon Property Group, the nation's largest mall operator. The first sign of trouble is often the departure of department stores and other anchor tenants, especially if those spaces stay vacant. High-quality, name-brand merchants often follow, with discounters—or nobody—replacing them. Shoppers sense the ennui, and gravitate toward malls that feel more vibrant, which only deepens the distress at troubled properties. By some estimates, about 10 percent of the America's malls could close within the next few years.

To gauge which malls are in trouble, U.S. News analyzed data from Green Street Advisors, an investment research firm in Newport Beach, Calif., that specializes in publicly owned real estate companies. Their data includes occupancy rates, sales per square foot, and quality grades for about 650 of America's biggest shopping centers. The average property in the data set has sales of about $420 per square foot and an occupancy rate of 92 percent, good for an A- grade.

[See how to tell if a mall is in trouble.]

The malls at the bottom of the list earn grades of C- or D, with falling sales at many stores and a high proportion of discount retailers that tend to draw the least lucrative consumers. As a rule of thumb, malls with sales of $250 per square foot or lower are struggling. "It's hard for many retailers to be profitable at $250," says Jim Sullivan of Green Street. And nine out of 10 malls at the bottom of Green Street's list have sales at or below that threshold.

The data we used doesn't cover strip malls and other shopping centers owned by private firms, which tend to be smaller, less profitable, and more vulnerable to a bad economy than regional malls. But the following 10 malls still represent bleak snapshots of some of the weakest spots in the nation's retail economy.

Century III Mall , Pittsburgh, Pa. (Occupancy rate: 70 percent; sales per square foot: $200*). About 30 of the 120 stores at this suburban Pittsburgh mall have closed recently, including anchor tenant Steve & Barry's and KB Toys (both of which have declared bankruptcy), Old Navy, Ruby Tuesday's, and Macy's Furniture Outlet. The 30-year-old complex targets value shoppers but competes with nearby discounters like Wal-Mart and Kohl's. Other area malls with more upscale stores are doing better. Century's owner, Simon Property Group, may be looking to sell Century III.

Chambersburg Mall, Chambersburg, Pa. (62 percent; $234). Sales have held steady over the past year, but a bucolic location 60 miles southwest of Harrisburg makes this sleepy mall a perennial underperformer. K.B. Toys, Value City, and B. Moss closed their stores after declaring bankruptcy. Newcomers include discounters like Bolton's and Burlington Coat Factory, which are likely to generate little excitement.

[See some restaurants that are on the ropes .]

Crossroads Mall, Omaha, Neb. (68 percent; $200*). Shoppers are fleeing this 50-year-old mall in central Omaha for suburban shopping centers that feel safer and more vibrant. The departure of Dillard's in 2008 left one of three anchor slots vacant. The Zales and Gordon's jewelry chains are also gone, along with Gap and most of the mall's food-court restaurants. According to press reports, owner Simon Property Group recently put the property up for sale. A buyer could try to resuscitate the mall or convert it to a different kind of retail or commercial complex.

Hickory Hollow Mall, Nashville, Tenn. (82 percent; $187). Dillard's has left, and other departed tenants include Linens 'N Things and Steve & Barry's, two of the biggest casualties of the recession. Two of four anchor slots are vacant, and the theater recently switched from first-run movies to late-run discount flicks. With a lack of retailers, the mall may convert some of its space to office use. One new tenant: the local police, who recently opened a recruiting station at the mall.

Highland Mall, Austin, Tex. (61 percent; $150*). While gleaming new stores have been springing up in some parts of Austin, this 38-year-old mall along I-35 has struggled to keep stores open—and avoid embarrassing controversies. Anchor JCPenney left in 2006, and this year Dillard's sued the mall's owners, claiming they let the mall become a "ghost town." The owners countersued, claiming that the suit is part of a scheme to help Dillard's get out of its lease early.

Palm Beach Mall, West Palm Beach, Fla. (82 percent; $250*). A year ago, the plan was to renovate this fading 42-year-old property. But that changed with the recession. Anchor tenants Dillard's and Macy's bolted within the last year, and in April, the mall's owners defaulted on a big bank payment, triggering a foreclosure lawsuit that could force the sale of the property. The power company even threatened to shut off the mall's electricity, but the bill was paid at the last minute. While remaining tenants like Sears and JC Penney await the outcome of litigation, other nearby malls are adding space and gaining customers.

[See why more companies are likely to fail this year .]

SouthPark Mall , Moline, Ill. (84 percent; $225). The owners spent a couple of years trying to sell this Quad Cities landmark, built in 1974, but they finally gave up late last year. Local officials would like to see the aging property converted to a more modern "lifestyle mall" with boutiques, lounging areas, and an upscale ambience. But modest local incomes probably can't support the major investment that would require. For now, the only upgrades at SouthPark are the construction of a few strip centers on "outlots" surrounding the mall, to be occupied by cheap restaurants and local service businesses.

Southridge Mall, Des Moines, Iowa. (84 percent; $168). The 2007 arrival of Steve & Barry's was supposed to mark a revival for this 34-year-old complex on Des Moines's South Side, which has been losing shoppers to more gentrified suburban malls. Then the discounter went bankrupt and closed its stores. The mall's owners have been trying to sell the property, and city officials have been working on ways to revitalize the entire area. They better hurry: At $168 per square foot, Southridge's sales are among the lowest for big malls.

Towne Mall, Franklin, Ohio. (49 percent; $207). This aging structure between Cincinnati and Dayton has been troubled for years, as the owner, CBL & Associates, and local officials have deliberated over whether to tear it down and build something more modern. Towne Mall has one of the highest vacancy rates of any operating mall, with more closed stores than open ones. A decision on the mall's fate is supposed to come soon.

Washington Crown Center , Washington, Pa. (70 percent; $265). Three of its biggest retailers—Macy's, Bon-Ton, and Gander Mountain—have suffered deep losses as consumers have cut spending. The mall's owner, Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, is revamping some of its properties—but not Washington Crown Centre, one of the weakest malls in its portfolio. PREIT could end up selling some of its subpar properties, which leaves this mall vulnerable.

* Where noted with an asterisk, figures are Green Street estimates.

8 Industries That Will Sit Out a Recovery--By Rick Newman

July 16, 2009

Sooner or later, the economy's going to turn a corner. Some think it won't be until 2010 or even 2011, since unemployment seems certain to rise for the foreseeable future and fall only slowly after it finally peaks. Others are more optimistic, pointing to evidence of an imminent turnaround. Merrill Lynch, for instance, declared in a recent research note that "the recession is over."

Whenever it happens, a recovery is likely to be sporadic and uneven. Industries that have held up over the last 18 months, like healthcare, education, pharmaceuticals, energy, telecom, and some high-tech sectors, should remain stable places to work. A few industries that have been battered during the recession may actually be poised for a bit of growth, since failed companies and consolidation have left openings that healthy companies can exploit. Some smaller regional banks, for instance, could nab credit-card business from wounded giants like Citigroup and Bank of America. And while billions in government bailouts once signaled the fragility of the financial and insurance industries, they've also helped contain the damage, which could bring back some jobs over the next couple of years.

[See America's most endangered malls.]

But other industries are mired in a world of hurt, with weak prospects for improvement any time soon. To determine which parts of the economy will struggle the most over the next couple of years, we analyzed data from Moody's, the rating agency, which predicts the likelihood of defaults on corporate debt in most sectors of the U.S. economy. We focused on two important measures: industries with the highest projected default rates, and the percentage of companies in a given industry for which Moody's has a negative outlook. Then we singled out the industries that rank below the median on both of those lists.

These are industries where the majority of companies will remain under pressure to cut costs and revive cash flow, mainly because of lower demand and long-term changes in their slice of the economy. Some companies in these industries are still at risk of failing, often because of debt taken on in recent years to fund mergers or expansion. Jobs are likely to be scarce. And as the economy gradually gets healthier, these industries will be the laggards that turn around last.

Airlines. They're no longer gagging on the sky-high fuel prices of 2008, but double-digit cutbacks in fliers and revenue mean another money-losing year for this long-ailing industry. Sharp declines in high-revenue business travel have been the toughest blow, and that's likely to continue well into 2010. Swine flu could keep even more people home if there's a fresh outbreak this fall, as some experts expect. Most airlines have cut capacity, but that alone isn't enough to keep carriers in the black. After several rounds of bankruptcy over the last several years, more are possible, with American, United, and US Airways currently the lowest-rated major carriers, according to Moody's.

[See 11 places with a worse economy than ours.]

Hotels and cruise lines. With both business and leisure travelers staying home, hotel occupancy has plunged. That has led to deep discounting at chains like Marriott, Westin, Sheraton, and Wyndham, and that has hammered profitability. A pickup depends on improving business conditions and a better jobs picture, which seem a year away at best. Cruise lines are almost entirely dependent on leisure travelers, who have been scarce because of falling home values and a dramatic reduction in Americans' net worth. Theme parks, sports arenas, and other leisure venues are suffering from the same woes.

Casinos. If there's any good news, it's that laid-off Americans don't seem to be betting their savings at the blackjack table. But they're not gambling with their disposable income, either. That's bad news for Las Vegas, where visits are down nearly 10 percent this year and the local economy has been battered. Even if traffic bounces back, several new casinos that are scheduled to open next year will deepen a gap between supply and demand. Other gambling states like New Jersey, Connecticut, and Illinois are feeling the pinch, too, and gaming companies like Harrah's and MGM Mirage are struggling to generate the cash flow required to make interest payments on debt and cover expenses. Gambling usually rises and falls with consumer spending, but this time, analysts aren't so sure that shell shocked consumers will return to the casinos once their incomes improve.

Automotive. The General Motors and Chrysler bankruptcies may have been the start, not the end, of a dramatic reordering of the nation's automotive industry. Car sales have picked up a bit, but global sales are still likely to be down by more than 10 percent in 2009, which affects every carmaker operating in the United States. Government bailouts in the United States and Europe may have saved jobs and prevented a catastrophic collapse, but they also kept in place excess capacity that will keep profits low. A worldwide emphasis on smaller cars—which have smaller profit margins—will add to the financial stress. And there's still the possibility that GM or Chrysler could fail. The pressure will extend to thousands of suppliers, dealerships, car-rental agencies, and other firms dependent on the carmakers.

[See which carmakers have been hurt most and helped most by the recession.]

Media. It's hard to imagine what else could go wrong for traditional print and broadcast media companies. Even without a recession, newspapers, magazines, and TV and radio broadcasters have been losing their audience to the Internet. At the same time, a crushing downturn in the retail, automotive, and financial industries has led to double-digit cuts in advertising, the biggest source of revenue for many media companies. And there's no historic election, accompanied by millions in political advertising, slated anytime soon to help pick up the slack, as there was in 2008. Many newspapers are in such bad shape that investors have virtually no interest in buying them, at any price, according to Moody's. Magazines are doing so poorly that McGraw-Hill is struggling to find a buyer for BusinessWeek, one of the most venerable titles on the market. TV networks have the ability to boost ad revenue from entertainment programming and deals with cable companies—but only if they can deliver viewers, who are more elusive than ever.

Real estate and construction. Everybody knows about the dismal housing market, which is likely to stay depressed well into 2010 because of rising foreclosures and ongoing job losses. And by the time home prices bottom out—perhaps midway through 2010—a commercial real estate bust may be fully underway, with acute drops likely in construction of retail, office, government, and manufacturing complexes. The real estate doldrums will continue to plague a huge swath of the U.S. economy, including home builders, mall operators, cement companies, pickup truck manufacturers, and thousands of small businesses that cater to contractors and construction firms.

[See which restaurants are on the ropes.]

Metals. Demand for steel, rebar, aluminum, copper, and other metals is linked closely to two industries that are depressed: Cars and construction. The global car market seems likely to sag for well over a year, and a commercial real estate bust is coming right behind the meltdown in housing. Strong demand in developing markets like China and India drove many metals prices to record highs in early 2008. But demand has now collapsed, with prices of some products approaching 10-year lows. With no rebound on the horizon, big producers like Alcoa, US Steel, and AK Steel will be in a holding pattern, at best.

Retail. A trip to the mall says it all: There are fewer shoppers, and they're spending less. Bankrupt chains like Circuit City, Steve & Barry's, and KB Toys have left behind acres of vacant storefronts. Two major factors are likely to prolong the pain: rising unemployment, which leaves consumers with less income and more job worries, and a severe decline in household wealth, thanks to the housing bust. Over the next year, Moody's predicts that the most vulnerable retailers will be specialty stores that cater to a small subset of consumers or specialize in discretionary products people can live without. Also vulnerable are department stores, which were losing sales before the recession even started and have slashed prices and closed stores to survive the last two years. The lowest-rated firms on Moody's list include Brookstone, Claire's, Finlay Fine Jewelry, Oriental Trading Co., Bon-Ton, and Neiman Marcus. The only possible bright spots are low-margin discounters like Wal-Mart, supermarkets, and drugstores. For the foreseeable future, a utilitarian economy may be the best we can muster.

Op-Ed: Dems’ health plan will increase costs for families, small businesses--By House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio)

July 20, 2009

Middle-class families are struggling every day with rising costs of housing, food, transportation, and taxes. But for many, rising costs of health care are the most devastating of all. That’s why Americans’ top priority during the ongoing health care debate is a plan that will reduce costs. Unfortunately, the government takeover of health care offered by the Washington Democrats will not reduce costs; instead, it will dramatically increase costs – for your family, America’s small businesses, and all taxpayers.

Last week, Douglas Elmendorf, the director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) sent shockwaves through Washington when he told Congress that the Democrats’ plans would make health care more costly. Throughout this debate, President Obama has spoken of the need to “bend the cost curve” or drive health care costs down. During a congressional hearing, however, Mr. Elmendorf testified that the Democrats’ plans would have the opposite effect, saying that under their proposals, “The curve is being raised” and costs would “significantly expand.” That’s because the Democrats’ plan adds a new layer of taxes, mandates, and bureaucracy on top of the current system. If that’s not bad enough, the Democrats’ plan cuts Medicare and takes away choices for millions of seniors. What does all of this mean? Higher costs for the medicine and treatments you need.

Not only will the Democrats’ government-run health care plan raise your costs, but it also will raise costs for our nation’s employers – particularly small businesses. At the heart of their proposal is a small business tax that, for tens of millions, means diminished job security. The National Federation of Independent Businesses warns that the small business tax and mandates in the Democrats’ plan will destroy 1.6 million jobs – one million of them in small businesses alone. And according to methodology developed by Dr. Christina Romer, the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisors, the government takeover would cost Americans 4.7 million jobs over the next 10 years. With our economy at its weakest since the Great Depression and unemployment soaring far beyond the levels promised by the Administration, why would Congress promote policies that make jobs even more scarce?

In addition to warning that the Democrats’ plan will raise health care costs, the Congressional Budget Office also has projected that the House Democrats’ proposal would increase the deficit by another $239 billion over the next 10 years. And even though the President continues to claim that those who like their current health care plans can keep them under the Democrats’ proposal, independent analysts disagree. One analysis shows that 114 million Americans may be forced off their current coverage and onto a government-run plan as a result of the House Democrats’ legislation. That means more costs to the taxpayers. The bottom line: while Democratic leaders continue to claim that health care legislation must be “paid for,” the House Democrats’ bill is not. Instead, it will force us to borrow more from China and countries in the Middle East and stick our children and grandchildren with the tab.

Faced with the Democratic bill’s extraordinary costs to families, small businesses, and taxpayers, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) suggested last week that Democrats should go “back to the drawing board.” I agree, and that’s why House Republicans have offered real reforms that would lower health care costs. Our plan roots out waste, fraud, and abuse in the system and reforms medical liability rules that cost families millions each year – millions that line the pockets of trial lawyers at the expense of patients and doctors. It lets small businesses band together through associations and purchase health insurance for workers at a lower cost, just like large corporations and unions do. It offers incentives to help Americans who do not have access to quality health care get the coverage they can afford, while giving states tools to design programs that make health care coverage more affordable. And it reforms regulations so insurance companies compete for your business and you can shop around for the best coverage and price.

Health care reform is too important to rush through a flawed proposal that will raise costs – the opposite of what the American people want. After the Obama Administration insisted that Congress rush to enact a “stimulus” bill that – by any objective account – has not created the jobs that were promised, Washington cannot afford to make that same mistake on health care. Nonetheless, it appears Democratic leaders will stubbornly try to ram through this bill before Congress leaves for the August break with little debate or discussion, even as many rank-and-file Democrats express serious concerns about what a costly government-run plan would mean for families and small businesses. It’s time for Democrats to scrap their government takeover of health care and work with Republicans on a plan that gives more Americans access to affordable coverage.

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) is the House Minority Leader and a leading voice in the Republican party. He is currently serving his 10th term representing the 8th Congressional District of Ohio.

Op-Ed Contributor: Health care reform is an economic necessity--By Christina Romer

Washington, DC – Health care reform is more than a social imperative – it is an economic necessity. A new study by the President's Council of Economic Advisers demonstrates that the current American health care system is on an unsustainable path. Without health care reform, American workers and families will continue to experience eroding health care benefits and stagnating wages caused by the pressure of escalating health insurance premiums. And without reform, rising spending on Medicare and Medicaid will lead to massive and unsustainable Federal budget deficits.

Years of diagnosis on the ills of the U.S. health system have produced no cure. Health care expenditures in this country are currently 18 percent of GDP and, without change, will keep rising, until they account for nearly one-third of our total output by 2040. Even with this exorbitant bill, about 46 million Americans lack health insurance coverage today, and this number is predicted to rise to 72 million over the next three decades.

The President has articulated his goal of health care reform that slows the growth rate of health care costs, preserves choice of doctors and plans, and assures quality, affordable health care for all Americans. Over the long term, heeding President Obama's call for change will lead to faster economic growth, higher take-home pay for workers, greater employment opportunities, a more level playing field between small and large businesses, and deficit control.

The administration and health industry leaders have pledged to work toward a goal of reducing health care cost growth by 1.5 percentage points per year. And, the Administration is committed to working toward ensuring that all Americans have access to health insurance coverage. If we can achieve and sustain this ambitious rate of cost containment and expand coverage, the results would be significant. For example:

• Impact on income: For a typical family of four, income would be higher than it otherwise would have been by approximately $2,600 in 2020 (in 2009 dollars) and by nearly $10,000 in 2030.

• Impact on GDP: Real GDP would be 2 percent higher in 2020 than it otherwise would have been, nearly 8 percent higher in 2030, and nearly 16 percent higher in 2040. The key source of this improved growth would be increased efficiency in the health sector and increased investment stimulated by a reduction in the government budget deficit.

• Impact on the budget deficit: CEA estimates that slowing the growth of health care costs by 1.5 percentage points would reduce the budget deficit in 2030 by 3 percent of GDP relative to the no-reform baseline.

• Impact on unemployment: Controlling health care cost growth would allow lower unemployment in the short and medium run, without putting pressure on inflation. Employment could be 500,000 higher for a number of years.

• Improvements in economic well-being from greater coverage: We use the best estimates available to quantify the costs and benefits of expanding coverage. Among the benefits we attempt to put a dollar value on are the increased life expectancy that results from access to health care and the decreased chance of financial ruin from high medical bills. We find that the net benefits – the benefits minus the costs – are on the order of $100 billion each year.

• Labor market improvements: By increasing access to insurance coverage and removing limitations on coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, health care reform is likely to increase the labor supply and make it easier for workers to switch jobs and feel confident of their coverage no matter what happens. It will also improve the competitiveness of small businesses by lessening the disadvantage they face in competing with large firms that have lower insurance costs.

As we know from past failures, the process of achieving comprehensive health care reform will not be easy. Controlling cost growth cannot just be a lofty goal, it must become a hard reality. To do this, we will need reforms that emphasize quality over quantity, patient involvement, and reward prevention and wellness. The evidence suggests that up to 30 percent of health care costs, or about 5 percent of GDP, could be saved without compromising health outcomes in the United States.

The bottom line of the CEA report is that doing health care reform right is incredibly important. If we can put in place reforms that slow cost growth significantly and expand coverage, the benefits to American families, firms, and government budgets would be enormous. To put it simply, good health care reform is good economic policy.

Christina Romer is the chair of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers. Op-Eds by contributors do not reflect the editorial views of the Yahoo! News staff.

Op-Ed Contributor: Health reform possible without growing government--By Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.)

June 11, 2009

Washington, DC — To be effective, health care reform must include insurance coverage for everyone, encourage prevention measures, and reform the inefficiencies in our system to ensure the future strength of our economy. CPR—Coverage, Prevention, Reform—is a plan I have proposed that sets up a system where every American will be required to purchase meaningful health insurance to ensure each family will be protected against bankruptcy if a family member becomes seriously ill or injured. No family should lose their home or life-savings because of illness or injury. For those who may not be able to afford this plan, you will have assistance getting coverage.

This proposal also aggressively focuses on the need for more robust preventive care and creates incentives for people and businesses to work toward better health sooner, rather than later when such measures may not work and crisis treatment is much more costly. By offering first-dollar coverage for early health screenings and immunizations, this program will create the foundation for healthy lifestyles and reduce the need for later treatments. Further, by rewarding employees for taking part in employer-sponsored programs, which often include programs to help people quit smoking, fitness club membership options, and affordable access to programs like Weight Watchers, CPR creates incentives that will motivate Americans to take control of and improve their personal health.

The third component of CPR entails much needed reform of the way we pay for health care in this country. As it stands now, health care constitutes 17% of the U.S. economy, an amount that totals more than $8,000 annually for every person in the U.S. We already have more than $38 trillion in promised Medicare benefits over the next 75 years that we don’t know how to pay for. The President himself has stated, "The biggest threat to our nation’s balance sheet is the skyrocketing cost of health care." We don’t need more health care that spends more taxpayer dollars to grow government; we need better health care that offers Americans peace of mind and quality care at prices they can afford.

Reform starts with paying for quality, not quantity. According to a study at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, as much as $750 billion is spent each year on procedures or health-related services that don’t necessarily help patients get better. For example, when discharging patients, hospitals have an obligation to provide patients with a care plan to ensure they don’t end up readmitted. However, Medicare pays more to hospitals when a patient ends up back in the hospital. And physicians are paid more when they order more tests, procedures and office visits, whether you need them or not.

Ask yourself: Would you pay your dinner bill if the waiter spilled your first plate all over the floor, brought you a replacement plate, and then charged you double? We have the information and ability to change how we pay for health care; we just need to begin implementing the policies to do it, such as informing providers and the public of their performance compared to other providers in their locality and around the country. Payment incentives can also be instituted to improve care by encouraging physicians to coordinate care for patients, thereby eliminating unnecessary procedures and tests. Efforts such as these will improve quality and reduce costs.

We can respond appropriately to the health care crisis that faces millions of families by focusing on providing coverage for everyone, ensuring prevention becomes part of your health care plan, and reforming inefficiencies in the system at the same time we address the future economic security of this country.

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) is the ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee and the former chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Jay-Z - History

(Jay-Z - History)Jay-Z - History with Lyrics

LYRICS : [Chorus: Cee-lo]
Now that all the smoke is gone
And the battle's finally won
(Gimme a lighter)
Victory (Lighters up) is finally ours
(Lighters up)
History, so long, so long
So long, so long

[Verse 1: Jay-Z]
In search of victory, she keeps eluding me
If only we could be together momentarily
We can make love and make history
Why won't you visit me? until she visit me
I'll be stuck with her sister, her name is defeat
She gives me agony, so much agony
She brings me so much pain, so much misery
Like missing your last shot and falling to your knees
As the crowd screams for the other team
I practice so hard for this moment, victory don't leave
I know what this means, I'm stuck in this routine
Whole new different day, same old thing
All I got is dreams, nobody else can see
Nobody else believes, nobody else but me
Where are you victory? I need you desperately
Not just for the moment, to make history

[Chorus: Cee-lo]
Now that all the smoke is gone
And the battle's finally won
Victory is finally ours
History (yeah), so long, so long
So long, so long

[Verse 2: Jay-Z]
So now I'm flirting with death, hustling like a G
While victory wasn't watching took chances repeatedly
As a teenage boy before acne, before I got proactiv I couldn't face she
I just threw on my hoodie and headed to the street
That's where I met success, we'd live together shortly
Now success is like lust, she's good to the touch
She's good for the moment but she's never enough
Everybody's had her, she's nothing like V
But success is all I got unfortunately
But I'm burning down the block hoppin' in and out of V
But something tells me that there's much more to see
Before I get killed because I can't get robbed
So before me success and death ménage
I gotta get lost, I gotta find V
We gotta be together to make history

[Chorus: Cee-lo]
Now that all the smoke is gone
(Lighters. Up.)
And the battle's finally won
(Lighter. Up.)
Victory is finally ours
(Lighters. Up.)
History, so long, so long
So long, so long

[Verse 3: Jay-Z]
Now victory is mine, it tastes so sweet
She's my trophy wife, you're coming with me
We'll have a baby who stutters repeatedly
We'll name him history, he'll repeat after me
He's my legacy, son of my hard work
Future of my past, he'll explain who I be
Rank me amongst the greats, either 1, 2, or 3
If I ain't number one then I failed you victory
Ain't in it for the fame that dies within weeks
Ain't in it for the money, can't take it when you leave
I wanna be remembered long after you grieve
Long after I'm gone, long after I breathe
I leave all I am in the hands of history
That's my last will and testimony
This is much more than a song, it's a baby shower
I've been waiting for this hour, history you ours

[Chorus: Cee-lo (2x)]
Now that all the smoke is gone
And the battle's finally won
Victory is finally ours
History, so long, so long
So long, so long

Man in the Mirror--By Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson - Man in the mirror

I'm gonna make a change,
for once im my life
It's gonna feel real good,
gonna make a diference
Gonna make it right...

As I, turn up the collar on
my favorite winter coat
This wind is blowing my mind
I see the kids in the streets,
with not enought to eat
Who am I to be blind?
Pretending not to see their needs

A summer disregard,a broken bottle top
And a one man soul
They follow each other on the wind ya' know
'Cause they got nowhere to go
That's why I want you to know

I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
(If you wanna make the world a better place)
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change
(Take a look at yourself, and then make a change)
(Na na na, na na na, na na, na nah)

I've been a victim of a selfish kind of love
It's time that I realize
That there are some with no home, not a nickel to loan
Could it be really me, pretending that they're not alone?

A willow deeply scarred, somebody's broken heart
And a washed-out dream
(Washed-out dream)
They follow the pattern of the wind ya' see
'Cause they got no place to be
That's why I'm starting with me
(Starting with me!)

I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
(If you wanna make the world a better place)
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change
(Take a look at yourself, and then make a change)

I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
(Change his ways - ooh!)
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make that..
(Take a look at yourself and then make that..)

I'm starting with the man in the mirror
(Man in the mirror - Oh yeah!)
I'm asking him to change his ways
(Better change!)
No message could have been any clearer
(If you wanna make the world a better place)

Michael Jackson - Man in the mirror

A Change is Gonna Come by Sam Cook

It's been a long time coming but a change is surely going to come in America and the World! I am the Future of America and the World and that is the message that each of us must carry with us each and every day that we wake up on Earth! I am the Future! You are the Future! We are the Future of America and the World! That is way every election is important--primaries, special elections and general! So vote every year and hold our politicians accountable. Hold our political officials accountable by writing them, calling them and making sure they attend meetings that we the people have. "The Time for Change is not Now but Right Now!"

"EmPOWERment By Any Means Necessary" should be our anthem and should be our creed as we make the positive differences in America and the world that so many people beg for and hungry for year after year! A Change is Gonna Come, A Change is Gonna Come, that's what we must say as we say "God grants us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, Courge to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference" each morning before we go about the task of making a positive change in America and the world a reality.

Born In The U.S.A. - Bruce Springsteen

“When will people realize that we are Americans first and foremost, not Democrats or Liberals, not Republicans or Conservatives, not Independents or moderates. We are Americans. Stop putting a political party above America and stop putting any politican above America. America succeeds because of us the people holding our government responsible no matter the political party because the main two political parties are to blame for the condition America is in."—Hodari P.T. Brown

America with its flaws and all is a country I am proud to have been born in. America is not perfect but my love for it is perfect. That’s why all Americans must realize that we are all Americans. In fact we are Americans first and foremost. We are not Democrats or Republicans. We are Americans.

We are not Muslims, Christians or Jews. We are Americans. Too many times we recognize our differences with others rather than appreciating our similarities which are, we are Americans. We are Americans first and foremost, no matter if we were born here or moved here legally. We are all Americans, here in this country to make not only our lives better but the lives of other Americans better so future Americans can enjoy the rights and freedoms that make us all Americans.

We are all Americans. We are one party united under God. We are Americans and this is the only political party that matters. We are Americans and this is our country so let’s make sure that we make America better than how we found it so future Americans can live prosperous and joyous lives. We are Americans and must not ever forget that.

America will prosper as long we make sure we are doing our part to make it prosper and that means we can’t put any political party or politician above America. Long live America forever and long live America’s service to the world. Together, America and the world will prosper for future generations to enjoy America and the world we live in.

Lift Every Voice and Sing

This video of the ' Negro National Anthem' was originally screened at the historic African-American Church Inaugural Ball in Washington, DC on January 18th, 2009. Many of the esteemed individuals featured in this video in attendance and we presented with the ' Keepers of the Flame' award for the monumental contributions to social justice.

This version of the song was performed by the Grace Baptist Church Cathedral Choir, conducted by Derrick James. The video was produced and donated by Ascender Communications, LLC ( at the request of The Balm In Gilead, Inc.

If I Was President--Wyclef Jean

If I was President that is the people's anthem. We all have ideas of what we can do as President and through this website, we will fulfill our deam as a people!

Somethings Gotta Give--Big Boi ft Mary J Blige

Somethings Gotta Give people and it begins today for all us to make sure that something is us. We the people are sick and tired of suffering. Where is our piece of the Dream that so many people dead for so that we all could see today. This is our time people to change America and the world so that the Next Generation has a better future than the past we inherited.

This is our call to service. This isn't about one political candidate or one political figure. This is about us as people coming together to finally leave up to our potential and achieving the great feats that those before us have achieved. This is our moment to lead our nation and our world to greater heights.

Somethings gotta give people and it starts with us the people making it happen. We have to improve our education system in America. We have to rid the world of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. We have to go to the streets and lift a hand to another in order to decrease poverty in this world. We have to take a stand today and make sure that the future of America and the world is brighter than it has ever been.

Somethings Gotta Give and that is why we must "Remember Each One, Reach One and Teach One so America's future and the World's future continues to prosper."

John Legend - "If You're Out There"

If you're out there than you need to get started in helping to change America and the world. The world and America won't change until you get involved in making the changes you want to see in this world. If you're out there, than you must know that tomorrow started now and today started yesterday so you are behind in helping to the change. If you are tired of hatred, racism, poverty, war, and violence than the time to change it is now. If you want universal health care, world peace, democracy for every nation, equal rights, and happiness for all than you must get involved now to help the save world.

You must believe in the change that you want to see and you must act on making that change a reality. If you're out there than say it aloud and show the rest of America and the world that you're out here to make a real positive change in the communities we stay in. If you're out there than get involved now. I'm calling every women and men to join me as we take back our country right here, right now. If you're out there than the future started yersterday and we are already late so we have lots of work to do but I know we can do it together as one.


Yes We Can accomplish anything that we set out to do! We don't need charismatic or inspirational leaders to believe in ourselves and to take responsiblity for our own faith, we just need each other. Yes We Can build a new America and a new world if each of us would take action now to make the changes that we want to see in the world. Yes We Can control government by holding our political officials accountable for their actions by calling them out when they don't pass legislation that supports the common good of all man and by voting in every election to ensure that we have people representing the people locally, state wide, nationally and in the world.

Yes We Can be great! Yes We Can be what we want to be! Yes We Can be glorious in not only America but the world! Yes We can put action behind our worlds and change the world starting right here, right now! Yes We Can as Republicans, Democrats and Independents become one as we freely think about our fellow men and women and make decisions that will be in the best interest of all people and not one single group.

Yes We Can be the change that we want to see in the world! Yes We Can show the world that the youth are ready to lead! Yes We Can put our egos, our social economic statuses, our religions, our educational statuses and our skin color to the side for the better good of the world! Yes We Can be Greater than we have ever been and help others be Greater than they have ever be!

YES WE CAN and YES WE WILL BE VICTORIOUS IN ALL THAT WE DO! YES WE CAN, no matter what others may say, we will be glorious! YES WE WILL and YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN!

YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN is what will be sung from every mountaintop, every riverbank, every household, every school yard, every factory, every sporting event, every college campus and even every place you can imagine in the world is where YES WE CAN, will be said and heard!


Keep On Pushing - Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions

Wake Up People! No matter who is elected to any public office, we have to “Keep On Pushing” as a people to make sure they don’t leave us in a worst state than what they inherited. We as a people have to “Keep On Pushing” to make a difference in the lives of others. We have to have an “EmPOWERment By Any Means Necessary” attitude as we continue to push our agenda that we the people deserve and want better. We have to “Keep On Pushing” to bring about change in a positive way that will benefit all Americans no matter their age, their religion or skin color. We have to “Keep On Pushing” to bring about change that will improve our education system, improve our military, improve our national security, improve our healthcare system and improve our economy. We have to “Keep On Pushing” to bring about change that will leave America’s future in a better than how we found it and that will leave the world’s future in a better state than we imagined we could live it. We have to “Keep On Pushing” to make life better for our neighborhoods, our families and even our quote on quote enemies. We have to “Keep On Pushing” to inspire, to uplift and to guide those who need help spiritually, physically and mentally. We have to “Keep On Pushing ” so that our lives, our future generation’s lives and the lives of those who came before us does not die in vein.

“Keep on Pushing”

A War For Your Soul

A War For Your Soul-regular version from Erisai Films on Vimeo.

The moment has come for us as a nation of people to finally wake up and realize that our destiny and fate in society has rests on our shoulders. We cannot allow the forces of evil and darkness to drain us out. We have to continue to overcome all odds in order to make the future of our nation better and the future of future generations of Americans better. We have to continue to pray to our Lord and we have to continue to uplift each other in prayer as well as take action against those things that are trying to destroy us. We have to stand up once and for all and be the future that we want to be. Now is our time and we shall do together by any means necessary.

This video was created to inspire young African-Americans not to fall prey to some of the problems they face in society. The use of the voice "Master of Darkness" represents evil, which is where the blame of all problems should be placed, and not on any one group of people. This video should not to be used to divide people (Black & White), there are images of heroes that are white in this video, and there are images of Black & White coming together with the words of Dr. King in the background. Some of the images from the past can be unsettling, but they are used to show all Americans how far we have come, and how far we still have to go. This film is being strategically placed in school systems, churches and youth orgs around the country, in hope of helping a lost generation of kids that we as Americans have forgotten. As fellow Americans we must continue to love each other, and take that love and spread it to the rest of the world. **THIS VIDEO IS NOT FOR SALE & I AM NOT ACCEPTING DONATIONS FOR THE FILM, I ONLY WANT THE MESSAGE TO REACH AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE WITHOUT ANY HIDDEN POLITICAL OR FINANCIAL AGENDA.

Sitting On the Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding

"The time for sitting is over! The time for action is now! The time for hope without action is hopeless! The time for change without a positive attitude is a change that we can't believe in! We need change that is positive of helping all people! Our time for action is now, our time for hope is now, our time for change is now and our time to believe that we can do whatever we set our minds to is not now but right now!"


The Star-Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key

O say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming;
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, now conceals, now discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines on the stream;
'Tis the star-spangled banner; O long may it wave
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave,
From the terror of flight and the gloom of the grave;
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land,
Praise the power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, for our cause it is just.
And this be our motto— "In God is our trust; "
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

Black President

Our Time is not now but Right Now! Our Time has finally come to change the world not now but Right Now! If you don't believe that we can change the world than watch as we do it by changing your mind into believing in us and what we can do! This is OUR TIME RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW!


We got to FIGHT THE POWER! We can no longer sit on the sidelines and watch injustices take place. We can no longer sit by and allow our right to vote to become unexercised. We must FIGHT THE POWER for our past, present and future! We can no longer allow our rights to be oppressed and our voice to become drained by the powers at be. We must FIGHT THE POWER and show that we have a lot to say that needs to be heard by the mainstream media. We must FIGHT THE POWER and live up to our potential as dynamic, unbelievable and phenomenal people.

We must not believe the hype but we must become the hype. We are not Harriett Tubman, Marcus Garvey, MLK, Malcolm X, Booker T. Washington, Carter G. Woodson, W.E.B. DuBois, the Black Panther Party, SNCC, or any other activists but we are the fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, uncles, aunties, and relatives of those who came before us to pave the way for us to FIGHT THE POWER! We are not next Generation of leaders who will not be honored and praised until they die but that’s the fight we accept. We are not fighting the power for glory or fame but we are fighting the power for just causes that most men and women will not understand until years or decades later.

We are fighting for our sisters and brothers in Darfur, Georgia, Iraq, Iran, China and Mexico. We are speaking for those who are poor and have no food or water. We are fighting for those who are sick and dying. We are fighting for universal healthcare across the world and human rights for all people. We are fighting for rich and poor! We must FIGHT THE POWER no matter how hard and tough the road may be. We must FIGHT THE POWER for a better today and an even greater tomorrow!



“People Get Ready” our time is coming! We have come too far to turn back now. Our train is coming and it is coming in waves. “People Get Ready”, we don’t need a ticket but we need faith and the Lord will help guide us as we take back America and the world. “People Get Ready” our moment is now and we are ready to see the change we want in America and the world. All we got to do is have faith, hope and prosperity. “People Get Ready” to face your fears. “People Get Ready” to face your demons and the challenges of yesterday because today and tomorrow we will conquer & be victorious. “People Get Ready” a change is coming and our actions will make sure that change is a real positive change that lasts forever.

“People Get Ready” because we have had enough of just talking but now is our time to show action. “People Get Ready” to take back America and the world. “People Get Ready” to take back our communities and to make our streets safer and schools better. “People Get Ready” to make all our dreams come true. “People Get Ready” to see a better present for everyone and a better future for future generations. “People Get Ready” to live up to your potential and to help others live up to their own potential. “People Get Ready” to move past hatred, bigotry, racism and sexism. “People Get Ready” to fulfill the dreams of those who came before us and those who will come after us.

“People Get Ready” as we make our actions speak louder than our words. “People Get Ready” to make words mean something again as we put action to back up our rhetoric. “People Get Ready” as we embark on a new journey that will re-write America’s history as well as the world’s history. “People Get Ready” as we make the lives of others better and the lives of future generations better. “People Get Ready” because all we need is faith, hope and action to make this world a better place. “People Get Ready” to make a difference. “People Get Ready” to fulfill the American dream. “People Get Ready" to live out the American Dream as our founding fathers wanted us to live it. “People Get Ready” because our time is now, our moment is now and our moment in time to change America & the world is not now but right now. “People Get Ready” because a change is coming!

(Let me tell you now)
People get ready, there's a train comin'
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin'
You don't need no ticket, you just thank the lord

People get ready, for a train to Jordan
Picking up passengers coast to coast
Faith is the key, open the doors and board them
There's hope for all among those loved the most

There ain't no room for the hopeless sinner
Who would hurt all man kind just to save his own (believe me now)
Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner
For there's no hiding place against the kingdoms throne

[Alicia & Lyfe]
So people get ready there's a train coming
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels humming,
You don't need no ticket, you just thank the lord


God Bless the U.S.A. by Lee Greenwood

Lee Greenwood-god bless the U.S.A