July 12, 2012
By JULIE PACE | Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama, eager to shift election-year attention away from the nation’s lackluster jobs market, called on Congress Monday to extend tax cuts for only low and middle income earners while allowing taxes to increase for families that make more than $250,000 a year.
“Let’s not hold the vast majority of Americans and our economy hostage while we debate the merits of another tax cut for the wealthy,” said Obama, flanked by a dozen people the White House said would benefit from the middle class-oriented tax cut extension.
Obama wants Congress to pass a one-year extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for households making less than $250,000 before they expire at the end of the year. He said the outcome of his November election contest with Republican rival Mitt Romney would then determine the fate of the tax cuts for higher income earners.
“My opponent will fight to keep them in place. I will fight to end them,” he said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama “would not sign” a bill that extended the whole range of tax cuts in full.
Obama has long supported expiration of the tax cuts for those making more than $250,000. But the White House and the president’s re-election team are reviving his arguments now as a way to paint congressional Republicans as obstructionists and Romney as a protector of the wealthy, suggesting the GOP push for an across-the-board extension of the tax cuts puts the middle class at risk.
The president’s announcement also follows Friday’s dismal jobs report, which showed the nation’s unemployment rate stubbornly stuck at 8.2 percent.
Romney supports extending the tax cuts for all income earners. His campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said Monday that Obama’s proposal amounted to a “massive tax increase” and proved that the president “doesn’t have a clue how to get America working again and help the middle class.”
The contours of the tax debate are largely the same as they were when the cuts were due to expire at the end of 2010. While Obama opposed an extension for higher income earners then as well, he ultimately agreed to full two-year extension, in part to win concessions for other legislation.
Democrats see the tax debate as part of a larger coordinated attack on Romney, which includes intensifying calls for him to explain offshore bank accounts and release several years of tax returns.
The strategy is aimed at portraying Romney, whose personal wealth could exceed $250 million, as disconnected from middle-class voters.
Romney aides say the Democratic attacks on the presumptive GOP nominee’s wealth an “unfounded character assault.”
Romney hasn’t shirked from his wealth in the face of renewed Democratic criticism. He held a $50,000 per person fundraisers Sunday in the Hamptons, New York’s exclusive string of waterfront communities on Long Island's South Shore.
Romney aides also announced that the campaign and the Republican National Committee raised a combined $106 million in June, the former Massachusetts governor’s biggest monthly haul so far. The Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee raised $71 million last month.
Republican lawmakers immediately balked at Obama’s call for a partial extension.
“No one should see an income tax hike next year — not families, not small businesses and other job creators,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The president’s pitch may also face some opposition from congressional Democrats. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of his party’s Senate leadership, have both advocated denying the tax cut extension to those making above $1 million annually.
Extending the tax cuts only for households making below $250,000 costs the government about $800 billion less over 10 years than extending them for everyone. The full cuts cost the government about $4.5 trillion over a decade.
Obama was to continue the tax debate Tuesday during a campaign trip to Iowa. His re-election team was also promoting the president’s tax policy at a series of events this week in battleground states, including New Hampshire, Colorado and Nevada.
The Bush-era tax cuts are due to expire at the end of the year unless Congress votes to extend them. Economists worry that across-the-board tax increases, along with automatic spending cuts also scheduled to take hold at year’s end, could be a blow to the shaky U.S. economy.
July 05, 2012
By JUDY LIN | Associated Press
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Jerry Brown’s ambitious plan to start building the nation’s first dedicated high-speed rail line is set for a pivotal vote by the Legislature this week with some state lawmakers still skeptical about spending billions in the Central Valley.
The Democratic governor is pushing lawmakers to authorize $2.7 billion in voter-approved state bonds for construction on the first 130-mile stretch of high-speed rail from Madera to Bakersfield. Brown has made the massive infrastructure project one of his priorities for the year and says the state has to act fast in order to capture billions of dollars in additional federal support.
“Suck it in,” Brown told an audience gathered last month for the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge. “We got to build, we got to do it right.”
While Democratic leaders who control both houses of the Legislature support the bullet train, they concede that a legislative vote to authorize state bonds faces a tight vote, particularly in the Senate. Because Republicans oppose the project, at least 21 Democratic senators are needed to pass legislation on a simple majority vote. The project also faces GOP opposition in Congress.
“We’ll see where it goes,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento said last week.
Critics of high-speed rail say it's not clear where most of the construction funding will come from. They call the project too expensive and unnecessary. Recent polls show tepid support for a bullet train even though California voters authorized a total of $9 billion in what was intended to be the first round of bond financing back in 2008.
Once complete, the $68 billion bullet train would connect Los Angeles with San Francisco.
Dissenting Democratic lawmakers have suggested instead using bonds to improve existing rail systems within those densely populated areas. Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, said he won’t support the plan because there’s too much risk in placing the line in the Central Valley and too much uncertainty that the whole project will get done. He said with resources stretched, the state should focus on other needs such as education and health care.
“Sometimes it’s like a car you really wanted and it was a really good deal, and you’re walking away from a good deal but you just can’t afford it,” said the lawmaker from Concord.
“I’ve always said I was prepared to support high-speed rail done right,” said Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, another skeptic. “But frankly the High-Speed Rail Authority has struggled to deliver a project that fits that description.”
Lawmakers are under pressure from labor groups that say the project is sorely needed because it will bring jobs, particularly to the Central Valley region that has higher-than-average unemployment. The Obama administration has threatened to rescind $3.3 billion in federal grants if the Legislature doesn’t appropriate its share of funding.
The governor is counting on those federal funds and the $2.7 billion in state bonds for a total of $6 billion to build the first segment. California was able to secure more than expected after Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin turned down federal money.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood met with legislative leaders in Sacramento last month and told them not to delay the decision. The Federal Railway Administration has said the money must be used for the Central Valley segment.
Steinberg, the Senate leader, said the Legislature will vote this week to authorize the state bond. Another $800 million or so will be dedicated for upgrades in Northern and Southern California.
“I get the argument that to start in the Central Valley creates a risk because there’s no guarantee of future funding,” Steinberg said. “But here’s the upside: There is a greater risk in not going forward. ... You will never know whether California could have led the national way in attracting more federal resources next year and the year after, much less private investment.”
The California High-Speed Rail Authority, which is managing the project, faces a September 2017 federal deadline to finish the first segment of the line in the Central Valley.
Dan Richard, chairman of the authority, said the vote not only starts construction on high-speed rail in California but also authorizes financing to help electrify Caltrain, a San Jose-San Francisco commuter line, and upgrade Metrolink’s lines in Southern California.
“I’m absolutely convinced that the plan that we’ve put forth is the best plan given the resource limitations that we have,” Richard said. “And it will move us forward towards an integrated intercity rail system with early investments in the bookends in the urban areas. It’s a balanced plan.”
Legislative leaders have suggested that additional funding would next go toward extending high-speed rail from Bakersfield to Palmdale, which could link with regional rail systems into Los Angeles.
Supporters say the project will bring roughly 20,000 jobs for the next five years.
“This isn’t just any vote,” said Jim Earp, executive director of the California Alliance for Jobs, which represents union construction workers. “This is a watershed vote. It’s the kind of vote that you remember what people do because a lot of folks’ livelihoods depend upon what happens in Sacramento on this vote.”
SESAC, the nation’s most progressive performing rights organization, announces the promotion of Peniece LeGall to the position of Director, Writer/Publisher Relations. LeGall, who will head SESAC’s Atlanta office, will be responsible for recruiting new and established songwriters and publishers in all musical genres as well as maintaining relationships with current affiliates. LeGall was most recently SESAC’s Coordinator for the Atlanta office, where she provided support for all SESAC Atlanta’s special events including “Tempo Tuesdays,” the educational lecture series featuring speakers from various aspects of business.
“Peniece LeGall has been an integral part of the success of SESAC’s Atlanta office,” said Trevor Gale, SESAC Senior Vice President, Writer/Publisher Relations. “She is a true champion of songwriters and artists and has a keen creative focus as well as a knack for covering all details. She has worked very diligently to establish SESAC’s strong presence in Atlanta so I am very happy to announce this well-deserved promotion of Peniece.”
Prior to joining SESAC in 2006 , LeGall enjoyed 10 years in the music business including stints with ASCAP and BMI. LeGall served as producer on several music showcases and coordinated talent for two prominent showcases, Essence Music Festival and One Music Festival. LeGall is a graduate of Georgia State University with degrees in English Literature and Music Technology Management and is a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS).
Established in 1930, SESAC is a service organization created to serve both the creators of music and music users through music licensing and timely, efficient royalty collection and distribution. The nation’s most progressive performing rights organization, SESAC is known for its diversified repertory that includes genres ranging from Adult Contemporary, Urban, Jazz, Rock, Americana, Contemporary Christian, Latin, Country, Gospel, Dance, Classical and New Age. Artists who are affiliated with SESAC include such musical icons as Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, MGMT, Lady Antebellum, Mumford & Sons, Rico Love, Miykal Snoddy, Bryan-Michael Cox, Kendrick Dean, Traci Hale and Vashawn Mitchell, Alice In Chains and many more. SESAC is also rapidly becoming the performing rights organization of choice among many of Hollywood's most sought-after film and television composers. Headquartered in Nashville, the company also has offices in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami and London. (www.sesac.com).
SACRAMENTO — Attorney General Kamala D. Harris announced the California Homeowner Bill of Rights is one step closer to becoming law after key provisions passed the California Legislature today. The bills, which provide first of their kind protections for homeowners and reforms to the mortgage and foreclosure process, will now be sent to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown for consideration. The bills were approved 53 to 25 in the Assembly and 25 to 13 in the Senate.
“Passing these key elements of Homeowner Bill of Rights represents a significant step forward for struggling homeowners,” said Attorney General Harris. “These common-sense reforms will require banks to treat California homeowners more fairly and bring more transparency and accountability to their practices in our state. Responsible homeowners will have a better shot to keep their homes.”
“Californians will finally have a fighting chance to keep their homes, as this measure brings fairness to the loan modification and foreclosure process,” said Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. “At the same time, the protection gained by homeowners will help stabilize the housing sector of our economy. I applaud my colleagues for their hard work to protect consumers through this reasoned compromise.”
“The package approved by the Legislature today is a major victory for California’s consumers,” said Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez. “We impose tough new regulations on banks and lenders to stop the abusive practices we’ve seen since the collapse of the housing market, and this package will bring relief to hundreds of thousands of California homeowners.”
The California Homeowner Bill of Rights consists of a series of related bills, including two that were passed on June 26 by a two-house conference committee: AB 278 (Eng, Feuer, Pérez, Mitchell) and SB 900 (Leno, Evans, Corbett, DeSaulnier, Pavley, Steinberg).
The two identical bills passed by the conference committee contain key elements of the legislative package and provide protections for borrowers and struggling homeowners, including a restriction on dual-track foreclosures, where a lender forecloses on a borrower despite being in discussions over a loan modification to save the home. The bills also guarantee struggling homeowners a single point of contact at their lender with knowledge of their loan and direct access to decision makers. For the first time, the Homeowner Bill of Rights imposes civil penalties, of up to $7,500, on the repeated filing of foreclosure documents without verifying their accuracy, a practice commonly known as “robo-signing.” In addition, homeowners may require loan servicers to document their right to foreclose.
Homeowners will also have a clearly-defined right to access the courts to protect themselves from violations of these protections.
The Homeowner Bill of Rights also consists of four bills outside of the conference committee process. These will enhance law enforcement responses to mortgage and foreclosure-related crime, in part by empowering the Attorney General to call a grand jury in response to financial crimes spanning multiple jurisdictions. Additional elements will help communities fight blight related to foreclosure, and the crime that results, and provide enhanced protections for tenants in foreclosed homes. Please see the attached fact sheet for the status of these bills.
The California Homeowner Bill of Rights was introduced February 29, 2012 at a press conference featuring Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and bill authors from the Assembly and Senate. The Homeowner Bill of Rights codifies many of the core protections from the recent national mortgage settlement.
The California Homeowner Bill of Rights extends Attorney General Harris’ response to the state’s foreclosure and mortgage crisis. Attorney General Harris created a Mortgage Fraud Strike Force in March, 2011 to investigate and prosecute misconduct related to mortgages and foreclosures. In February 2012 Attorney General Harris extracted a commitment from the nation’s five largest banks to dedicate an estimated $18 billion to mitigate financial harm to California borrowers caused by bank misconduct in the foreclosure process.
More details about the California Homeowner Bill of Rights are found on the attached fact sheet. To learn more about how the bills impact California homeowners, review the slideshow at: www.oag.ca.gov.
June 28, 2012
By VERENA DOBNIK |
NEW YORK (AP) — A rare original copy of President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation sold Tuesday at a New York auction for more than $2 million.
It's the second-highest price ever paid for a Lincoln-signed proclamation — after one owned by the late Sen. Robert Kennedy that went for $3.8 million two years ago.
The latest copy of the 1863 document ordering the freeing of slaves, which was auctioned at the Robert Siegel Auction Galleries, went to David Rubenstein, managing director of The Carlyle Group investment firm. The American seller remained anonymous.
The $2.1 million purchase price includes a buyer’s premium.
This price and the one for the Kennedy copy are the highest ever paid for the proclamation, reflecting a “growing appreciation for documents that capture the most important moments in our history,” said Seth Kaller, a dealer in American historic documents and expert on the Emancipation Proclamation; he’s handled eight signed copies.
The document will go on public exhibit somewhere in Washington, he said. The name of the institution is yet to be announced.
Lincoln signed the proclamation during the Civil War, freeing all slaves in states then in rebellion. The proclamation also provided a legal framework for the emancipation of millions of other slaves as the Union armies advanced.
Forty-eight copies were subsequently printed, with Lincoln signing all of them.
The president donated them to the so-called Sanitary Commission, a precursor of the modern Red Cross that sold the documents privately to provide medical care to Union soldiers.
A century later, President Lyndon Johnson invoked the proclamation while presenting the Voting Rights Act to Congress. He said equality was still an unfulfilled promise for black Americans.
A total of nine proclamation copies have been sold publicly in the past 40 years, Kaller said.
In 2010, Robert Kennedy's family auctioned his copy for $3.8 million at Sotheby’s. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968, had purchased it for $9,500 in 1964, when he was U.S. attorney general.
Only about half of the 48 proclamation copies have survived, Kaller said.
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