Sunday, March 4, 2012

Inefficient Wall Street Wastes $280 Billion A Year: Study

Wall Street Waste
The Huffington Post   First Posted: 03/ 2/2012 10:04 am Updated: 03/ 2/2012 11:57 am

Wall Street seems to have learned a neat trick: how to make more money while producing less.
Between 1980 and 2010, the U.S. financial industry nearly doubled in size, relative to the overall economy. Yet in terms of what the financial industry actually produces -- liquidity, assets, anything of measurable benefit to society -- the sector appears to be doing less these days than it used to.
That, at least, is the contention of Thomas Philippon, an associate professor of finance at the New York University Stern School of Business whose 2011 paper -- "Has the U.S. Finance Industry Become Less Efficient?" -- is circulating the blogs this week.
Philippon's conclusion -- based on an analysis of the financial sector's output in recent decades, as well as what its workers have been collecting in profits and wages -- is that high finance is highly inefficient. For what the industry produces, it should be significantly smaller than it is, according to Philippon.
As it is, he writes, the financial sector is taking in money in a way that doesn't make sense: "[A]bout 2% of GDP, or about $280 billions annually, are either wasted or at least difficult to account for."
Philippon's paper echoes an assertion often heard from members of the Occupy movement, and that was seen chalked on the sidewalk at Zuccotti Park last fall -- the idea that "banks create nothing."
Philippon is hardly the first to ask why financial-service workers are paid so highly, and why that industry's share of the total economy has skyrocketed in the space of a generation. And he reaches an often-heard conclusion: New technologies have enabled traders to make lots of fees.
This isn't what social historians consider to be the main function of banks. Rather, the financial services industry emerged as a way to help money move between people, businesses and governments. But between the rise of computer-assisted trading and the gradual retreat from federal regulation that was a hallmark of presidential administrations from Reagan through Bush II, the Wall Street of the late 20th and early 21st century lost focus.
Following the financial crisis of 2008 -- largely the result of major financial institutions making unregulated trades with poor-quality assets, in the hopes of generating ever larger profits -- President Obama vowed to make financial regulation a top priority.
It's unclear how much has changed, with the vast majority of rules in the Dodd-Frank reform package still unwritten, and with Wall Street firms taking in greater profits during Obama's first three years in office than they did during the eight-year administration of George W. Bush.

Obama On Gas Prices: There's No 'Silver Bullet' To Avoid Annual Spikes

By JIM KUHNHENN 03/ 3/12 05:05 PM ET AP

Obama On Gas Prices
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama says higher auto mileage standards set under his administration and better cars built by a resurgent U.S. auto industry will save money at the gas pump over the long term, a counterpoint to Republican criticism of his energy policy.
In his weekly radio and online address Saturday, Obama said Detroit automakers are on track to build cars that average nearly 55 miles per gallon by 2025, doubling current mileage standards.
"That means folks will be able to fill up every two weeks instead of every week, saving the typical family more than $8,000 at the pump over time," he said. "That's a big deal, especially as families are yet again feeling the pinch from rising gas prices."
During the past several weeks, Obama has been eager to appear aggressive in the face of rising gasoline prices even as he reminds audiences that there is no simple, immediate solution that will reverse the current spike in prices.
"What's happening in Detroit will make a difference. But it won't solve everything," Obama said. "There's no silver bullet for avoiding spikes in gas prices every year."
By drawing attention to the auto industry, Obama looked to highlight both his efforts to improve fuel efficiency as well as his role in helping rescue General Motors and Chrysler. He also reiterated his call to end oil and gas company tax breaks and government subsidies that average about $4 billion a year.
Rising oil prices have become a concern at the White House, where Obama aides worry they could hurt an economic recovery that has been improving and also harm the president's re-election prospects.
Oil prices typical rise in the spring, but they have spiked to heights unseen at this this time of year, hastened by increased tensions over Iran's nuclear program. Gasoline prices reached $3.74 a gallon on Friday, a record at this point in the calendar but still shy of the high point of $4.11 hit in July 2008.
In Saturday's Republican address, Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington said a meeting this week among Obama and House and Senate leaders from both parties "provided a glimmer of new hope that the president and the Democratic-controlled Senate may finally act on some bipartisan energy bills" already passed by the Republican-controlled House.
Still, Hastings, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, faulted Obama for not doing more to increase domestic oil and gas production, for opposing drilling on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, for blocking a Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline and for imposing regulations on energy producers.
"The president, who campaigned on a promise to address rising gas prices, now talks as if they're largely beyond his control," Hastings said.

Rick Santorum's history in Pennsylvania explains challenges of his campaign

By Alex Leary, Times Staff Writer
Posted: Mar 04, 2012 06:23 PM

"I wrote him off," said Joe Horton, 42, a psychology professor at Grove City College, a Christian school 60 miles north of Pittsburgh. "There were fresher faces. But he's shown tenaciousness. Super Tuesday will tell a lot."
A review of Santorum's record and conversations with Pennsylvania voters explains how he got this far, a doggedness first noticed on the high school basketball court, and why he may not go much farther.
"All of us who knew him were waiting for the moments of the last three weeks," said G. Terry Madonna, an expert on state politics at Franklin & Marshall College. "He's gotten way off message. He's narrowed the prospects for expanding his base and he's retreated to the base he already has."
Santorum's problem in Pennsylvania was not contained to Democrats. Republicans had grown weary with his record on spending and his growing persona as a cultural warrior, espousing the sharp views on gay marriage, abortion and contraception that recently have leapt into the presidential primary.
In 2003, he likened homosexuality to "man on dog" sex, drawing ridicule from a sex columnist who made up a crude definition for Santorum's name and pushed it to the top of Google searches. A 2005 book he wrote blamed "radical feminists" for convincing women they had to find happiness in the workplace, a controversy that hurt him among women in his re-election battle. And Floridians may remember him from this era due to his insistence that the U.S. Senate wade into the Terri Schiavo debate.
"He got too preachy," said Marilyn Harrison, 80, who remembers Santorum knocking on her door in Mt. Lebanon in his first Senate run in 1994 and being impressed with his vibrant attitude. In 2006, Harrison crossed party lines and voted for Democrat Bob Casey Jr., whose father had been immensely popular as governor and shared Santorum's pro-life views.
"Santorum is out of step with the day," Harrison said. "I'm not against family values, but I don't want him imposing his version on others."
Early in his political career, Santorum emphasized small government conservatism, not religion. He grew into the role after being elected to the Senate and was influenced heavily by his wife, Karen, who dated an abortion provider in her 20s but came to have strong views against it. Devout Catholics, the couple has seven children. The change in focus gave him a national voice, but some supporters at home say it came at a cost.
"He would go off on these rants," said Michael Monday, 51, who owns a shoe store in Butler, where Santorum grew up, and has voted for him. "It was like he was doing it for himself. I wanted him to focus on us." Now Monday says he likes Mitt Romney's business background.
Polls show Santorum, 53, leading Romney in Pennsylvania, but voters do not think either can defeat President Barack Obama. Just 13 percent feel strongly that Santorum could beat the president compared with 45 percent who feel strongly that he cannot, according to a Feb. 25 Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll. The state has voted for a Democrat in every presidential election since 1992.
"I think my vote would be wasted (on Santorum)," said Bob Olsavicky, a 62-year-old Republican from Butler who also likes Romney. "I thought his career was over and was shocked to see him even go this far."
• • •
Butler, less than an hour drive north of Pittsburgh, is a middle-class town still rebuilding from the decline of the steel industry. Santorum's parents worked at the VA hospital and lived in an apartment on the grounds.
"He was the all-American boy, just all-around good guy, very polite," said Larry Goettler, a businessman. "We used to call him the Rooster. He had this shock of black hair that stuck up."
Goettler said Santorum's work ethic came through on the basketball court. "No one would describe him as a good athlete, but he never quit. Many times I thought he wouldn't get off the floor and he always did."
Santorum got knocked around so much he had to tape his glasses together.
"He was a debater. He could argue any point," Goettler said. "He was never rude about it, but he was very emphatic about it. He hasn't changed a bit."
Santorum did not grow up poor but his roots (his grandfather, an Italian immigrant, worked in the coal mines) have been an asset. On the campaign trail he has had a more natural connection with voters than Romney, the Harvard-educated multi-millionaire. Santorum talks about bringing up all people, frets over the decline of upward mobility and has long worked on antipoverty measures.
• • •
Santorum always earned low voter ratings from unions but he took positions that benefitted the jobs back home. He voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement and for limits on steel imports.
Santorum pushed for a balanced budget amendment and helped enact welfare reform, but he also fought against cuts in food stamps. He supported a minimum wage hike and voted against others.
Taken together, the record shows a more nuanced history than the unwavering conservative he projects today. In that regard, Santorum lines up with Romney, who says he had to sometimes take positions as governor of Massachusetts that reflected the political landscape.
"When you run in a state that's got a million more Democrats, you have to find ways to compromise and build bridges," said Vince Galko, a state Republican consultant who worked on Santorum's Senate campaigns.
His protectionist votes were only the start of his problems with conservative activists, who saw him as a hand of big government. Santorum voted for the Medicare prescription drug benefit, a massive expansion of the program, and for No Child Left Behind, the education policy conservatives say imposed too much federal control on states. He bragged about the political pork he brought home.
"We're going back into 1990s and wondering why Republicans — whether they're from Massachusetts or Georgia or Pennsylvania — weren't pure and strict conservatives on spending," said Madonna, the professor. "Well, very few of them were. There's a new standard in place."
Longtime friends say Santorum's enduring quality is that he means what he says and that his religious views get an outsized attention from the news media.
"A lot of the things he says are very common sense, but it's sort of become a sport to criticize him of late," said Heather Heidelbaugh, an Allegheny County council member. "For Pennsylvania to elect a Santorum, he couldn't be a wacko right-winger."

Up next: Super Tuesday
(Delegates at stake in parentheses): Alaska caucuses (27), Georgia (76), Idaho caucuses (32), Massachusetts (41), North Dakota caucuses (28), Ohio (66), Oklahoma (43), Tennessee (58), Vermont (17); Virginia (49).

By the numbers

1,144 Delegates needed to secure the Republican nomination

Delegate count (those awarded by state elections)
Mitt Romney: 149
Rick Santorum: 86
Newt Gingrich: 29
Ron Paul: 18

[Last modified: Mar 04, 2012 06:25 PM]

Obama recasts birth control debate on own terms

Mar 3, 6:52 PM EST

  • FILE - In this Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010 photo provided by the Las Vegas News Bureau, radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, one of six judges for the pageant, speaks during a Miss America news conference at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. Limbaugh drew fire Friday, March 2, 2012 from many directions for his depiction of a college student as a "slut" because she testified before Congress about the need for contraceptive coverage. (AP Photo/Las Vegas News Bureau, Brian Jones)
    FILE - In this Wednesday, Jan. …
  • In this image made from Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012 video provided by C-SPAN, Sandra Fluke, a third-year Georgetown University law student, testifies to Congress in Washington. Limbaugh drew fire Friday, March 2, 2012 from many directions for his depiction of Fluke as a "slut" because she testified before Congress about the need for contraceptive coverage. (AP Photo/C-SPAN)
    In this image made from Thursday, …

AP Photo/Brian Jones

President Obama has called a law student whose stand on contraception coverage prompted Rush Limbaugh to call her a "slut'' on his radio talk show. AP White House Correspondent Mark Smith reports.
Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke says Rush Limbaugh isn't the only one who has described her and other proponents of contraceptive coverage with derogatory terms.
Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke says radio host Rush Limbaugh's description of her as "a slut" was over the top.
Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke says opponents of contraceptive coverage for women won't succeed.
Election News
A tearful Putin claims Russian election victory

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama waded deep into the culture wars of American politics by rushing to the defense of a female law student Rush Limbaugh verbally attacked.

And by doing so, the president cast the contraception controversy raging in America as an issue of women's rights, not religious freedom.

Friday's telephone call of support to Sandra Fluke was nothing short of an election-year appeal to a crucial voting bloc - and it also had the political benefit of forcing Republicans to choose between siding with the president and taking what critics view as an extreme position to counter him.
In the eyes of Obama backers, the Democratic incumbent was handed a political gift when Limbaugh, the acerbic conservative commentator with an enormous following on the political right, called Fluke a "slut" because the 30-year-old Georgetown University student has been a vocal supporter of access to contraception. He came under criticism from women's groups, politicians from both political parties and even some advertisers for his popular talk show.
By Saturday evening, Limbaugh had apologized to Fluke. He said on his website that he had chosen the wrong words in his comment and that he "did not intend a personal attack" on her.
A day earlier, when Obama had personally injected himself into the debate, he underscored his campaign's belief that the issue of access to contraception could be a rallying cry for women, as well as young voters, two groups the president needs on his side in order to hold the White House.
The president's involvement in the debate over contraception, and whether insurers should be required to cover it, helped reignite a political battle from the 1960s and 1970s, and the birth of the religious right. By the 1980s, Christian conservatives were being elected to school boards and city councils. That success formed a foundation for what by the 1990s and 2000s were being called America's "values voters."
Now, as then, the country is trying to determine the government's role in morality.
The latest furor involved putting in place a requirement in the president's health care law mandating that religious-affiliated institutions such as hospitals and universities include free birth control coverage in their employee health plans.
Many Republicans and religious organizations accused Obama of waging a war on religion. As protests mounted, Obama said religious employers could opt out, but insurers must pay for the birth control coverage.
Some Democrats, including Vice President Joe Biden, acknowledged that the Obama administration's rollout of the health care requirement was flawed. But on the substance of the debate, they maintain that the president was on the right side.
Recent polls have supported that assertion.
A CBS News/New York Times poll conducted last month suggested that 72 percent of women support requiring private insurance companies to cover the full cost of birth control for their patients. The poll also showed that 59 percent of men support the requirement.
A fresh opportunity for Obama to portray himself as a champion of women's right surfaced this past week, courtesy of Limbaugh.
Republican lawmakers had barred her from testifying at a House hearing on the contraception measure last month. She was given the chance to talk to Congress on Feb. 23, even though lawmakers were on break and just a few Democratic allies were on hand to cheer her on. Fluke said that Georgetown, a Jesuit institution, does not provide contraception coverage in its student health plan and that contraception can cost a woman more than $3,000 during law school.
On Wednesday, Limbaugh weighed in. "What does it say about the college coed ... who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex."
Aides said Obama, a father of two daughters, read about Limbaugh's comments and wanted to reach out to Fluke to offer his support. After consulting with advisers, Obama called Fluke from the Oval Office on Friday afternoon.
Obama's phone call immediately boosted the pressure on Republican presidential candidates to respond to Limbaugh's comments.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, campaigning Saturday in Ohio, said the crux of the debate was about religious liberty, not contraception. Of Obama's call to Fluke, he said "I think the president will opportunistically do anything he can."
GOP hopeful Rick Santorum told CNN on Friday that Limbaugh was being "absurd", though he added that "an entertainer can be absurd." Mitt Romney tried to steer away from the uproar when asked about the radio host's words after a campaign event in Cleveland.
"It's not the language I would have used," Romney said Friday. "But I'm focusing on the issues that I think are significant in the country today and that's why I'm here talking about jobs in Ohio."
Courting female voters is central to Obama's re-election strategy. He won the White House in part because of a significant gender gap in the general election voting. In 2008, women preferred Obama over Arizona Sen. John McCain, with 56 percent of female voters siding with Obama and 43 percent with the GOP nominee, according to exit poll data.
Obama's 2012 campaign frequently points to polling suggesting a similar trend could be shaping up in 2012. A CNN poll from January showed Obama leading Romney among women nationally, 53 percent to 45 percent. That margin only increased in hypothetical matchups with Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Just on Saturday, all-women Barnard College said Obama would speak at the school's graduation ceremony in May.
Republican strategist John Feehery said the GOP candidates have so far missed an opportunity to forcefully distance themselves from Limbaugh's comments, allowing the president to take advantage.
"He's looking like the hero here," Feehery said of Obama. "If the Republicans were smart, they would have done the same thing: given her a call and said we're sorry about this attack."
Democratic lawmakers are also seeking to capitalize on Limbaugh's comments. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a letter to supporters that Democrats had raised more than $1.6 million on the contraception issue.
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said it was inappropriate to try to raise money off the issue. But the Speaker's office also distanced itself from Limbaugh's comments, saying they, too, were inappropriate.
Associated Press writer Dan Sewell in West Chester Township, Ohio contributed to this report.

Limbaugh comments overshadow GOP contest

Sound of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, greeting and thanking supporters at a campaign stop.
Sound of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, thanking supporters and shaking hands during a campaign stop in Cincinnati.
AP correspondent Sagar Meghani reports the Washington win gives Mitt Romney a fresh show of strength heading to Super Tuesday.

A tearful Putin claims Russian election victory

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -- Intensifying debate over conservative social values - and Republican icon Rush Limbaugh - overshadowed the nation's economic concerns Sunday as the Republican presidential campaign hurtled toward Super Tuesday contests that could re-shape the nomination battle and shift the direction of the Grand Old Party.

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum distanced themselves from Limbaugh, who boasts a huge conservative following and recently apologized for calling a Georgetown University law student a "slut" and a "prostitute" on his nationally syndicated radio program. The woman testified at a congressional hearing in favor of an Obama administration mandate that employee health plans include free contraceptive coverage. While religious institutions are exempt, their affiliates, such as hospitals and universities, were at first included in the requirement. Under harsh criticism from conservatives, President Barack Obama later said the affiliates could opt out, but insurers must pay for the coverage.

The GOP framed the issue as one of religious liberty. But Obama's chief political strategist suggested the Limbaugh's reaction - and Republicans slow repudiation of his comments - would benefit Democrats in the general election this fall.
"I think what Rush Limbaugh said about that young woman was not only vile and degrading to her, but to women across the country," David Axelrod said on ABC's "This Week" Sunday morning.
While the contraception debate raged on national television, Newt Gingrich predicted a strong performance Tuesday would resurrect his fading candidacy. Romney and Santorum spent Sunday racing across Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Ohio, four of the ten states to host elections on Super Tuesday, the biggest single voting day of the 2012 cycle.
Campaigning in Alaska, Ron Paul conceded he's a long shot.
"Do I believe I can win? Yes. Do I believe the chances are slim? Yes, I do," he said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Super Tuesday's defining contest may be Ohio, where Santorum and Romney have devoted tremendous time and resources in recent weeks. Santorum's performance there could well define his fate - and Romney's - in the rollercoaster race going forward.
"This is a game of survival," Santorum said while campaigning Sunday in Memphis, Tenn.
Preparing for the worst, Romney's campaign began preparing for a possible loss in Ohio, where polls show the former Massachusetts governor locked in a dead heat with Santorum, a former senator from neighboring Pennsylvania.
"I don't think any state is a must-win," Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said. "I think the only must-do on a candidate's check list is getting 1,144 delegates."
Romney has won four consecutive contests, including Saturday's Washington caucuses. His broad, well-disciplined organization virtually assures he'll collect more delegates than his opponents on Tuesday, in contrast with Santorum's looser group of supporters. Santorum and Gingrich did not collect enough signatures to qualify for the Virginia ballot, for example, and Santorum cannot win 18 of Ohio's 66 delegates for similar reasons.
But a win by the overmatched Santorum in Ohio would send a broad signal that Romney, long presumed the front-runner, is far weaker than anyone imagined. Gingrich said as much Sunday.
"Gov. Romney, who's outspent all the rest of us by multiples, is a front-runner without any question, but I think he's not a very convincing front-runner, and he's a long way from having closed out this race," he said.
On the other hand, a Santorum loss in Ohio, coupled with a convincing Gingrich victory in Georgia, could breathe new life into the former House speaker's candidacy and impede Santorum's greatest wish: a one-on-one contest against Romney.
"For us to ultimately win this race is going to have to narrow down to two, and I think that will happen eventually," Santorum said in Memphis.
But Gingrich is showing no signs of going away.
The former Georgia congressman has declared the state he represented for 20 years a must-win. He holds a strong lead in recent polls there. On Sunday he predicted the race would go on "for a good while."
No candidate will sweep all 10 contests - which feature in some cases complicated delegate rules and span politically diverse regions from Alaska to Vermont to Oklahoma.
But a Santorum victory in Ohio or broader success elsewhere will likely ensure his place as Romney's top rival. And that would help ensure that the contraception debate and other social issues play prominently in the Republican presidential contest going forward. Santorum has made headlines in recent days by emphasizing the need for two-parent families and fewer pregnancies out of wedlock. Saturday night, Santorum told an Ohio audience that the nation's inattention to conservative social values is "damning people."
In Oklahoma City on Sunday, Santorum was greeted by protesters who shouted slogans like "Get your hate out of my state." As Santorum supporters chanted "We pick Rick," the candidate himself was barely audible.
Earlier, he dodged the Limbaugh controversy. "That's not my business," he said when asked Sunday about Limbaugh's apology.
Romney has avoided the issue in recent days as well, saying only that Limbaugh's comments about the college student were "not the language I would have used, but I'm focusing on the issues that I think are significant in the country today, and that's why I'm here talking about jobs in Ohio."
Asked whether Romney's comments went far enough, Fehrnstrom said: "There's extreme rhetoric on both sides of the political spectrum. I think the political process is best served if everybody tones it down, not only those on the right but also intolerant voices on the left."
Gingrich told CNN's "State of the Union" that he's glad the conservative commentator issued the apology on Saturday and that it's time to move beyond the controversy. He said it's "silly" to suggest that Limbaugh speaks for the GOP.
Republican observers suggest that any continued focus on social issues could hurt the party.
GOP strategist Phil Musser said the contraception debate "has been distracting and has sucked up too much political oxygen."
"While this is an important issue that illustrates the overreach of Obamacare, it's nowhere near the top of what most Americans are most focused on right now," he said, describing it as a "short-term challenge."
Santorum's focus on social issues has helped fuel his success in lower-turnout elections, where tea party activists and evangelical voters generally play a more active role. Lingering skepticism about Romney's conservative credentials from those voters has allowed Santorum and Gingrich to stay in the race, despite Romney's advantages.
The Super Tuesday contests and beyond are about math almost as much as political symbolism.
No candidate can technically claim his party's nomination before collecting 1,144 delegates, although history suggests a nominee usually emerges much earlier once weaker candidates lose the ability to raise money.
Romney holds a commanding delegate lead, including Saturday's Washington results, according to Associated Press projections.
He won 30 delegates in Washington while Paul and Santorum each won five, bringing Romney's total to 203, compared to 92 for Santorum, 33 for Gingrich and 25 for Paul.
There are 419 delegates at stake Super Tuesday. Also, Wyoming Republicans will hold county conventions from March 6 through March 10, with 12 delegates to the party's national convention up for grabs.
Associated Press writer Katie Fretland in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

Florida Insider Poll: Vice President Marco Rubio edition

FEBRUARY 25, 2012

Inside the Washington Beltway and among Republican activists across the country, it often sounds like there’s only one home run pick for vice president — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
Rubio, 40, overwhelmingly won a Conservative Political Action Committee Conference (CPAC) straw poll this month for their preferred vice presidential candidate. He finished well ahead of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. A Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 800 registered Republicans and independents released this week also found
Rubio was the top VP choice, ahead of Rick Santorum, Christie and Sarah Palin.
But what about the politicos who know Rubio best? The latest Tampa Bay Times Florida Insider Poll found significant skepticism about putting Rubio on the presidential ticket.
"All my optimism about Rubio comes with the caveat that he weather the intense scrutiny he will face as a VP nominee. There are small skeletons in his closet that, if handled properly will remain small. If not, they will be devastating," said on Republican.
Among more than 100 Florida lobbyists, activists, political operatives and fundraisers who participated in the survey, Rubio was most frequently named as the best pick for vice president, regardless of the nominee.
Still, three-quarters of respondents did not name Rubio as the best choice and only 37 percent said he would be a safe pick.
"The national media would shred Rubio over the RPOF scandals, and he's too close to it for him to risk his image," said one conservative independent.
These are Florida politicos who paid close attention to Rubio’s tenure as Florida House speaker. They are more likely to be acquainted with the baggage that surfaced in his 2010 Senate race — using Republican party credit cards to pay for personal expenses, sometimes messy personal finances and sloppy adherence to financial disclosure requirements.
"Rubio's current appeal would wane once subjected to the scrutiny afforded VP nominees," said a Democrat. "For starters just look at the dust up over his inaccurate account of his families immigration history which surfaced when he was first mentioned as a possible nominee."
The Florida Insider Poll does underscore Rubio’s potential strength as a running mate. More than six in 10 insiders said he would help the ticket nationally and three out of four — including 44 percent of Democrats surveyed and 90 percent of Republicans — said he would help deliver Florida to the GOP. Considering that it’s close to impossible for Republicans to unseat President Barack Obama without winning Florida’s 29 electoral votes, that alone could be reason enough to beg Rubio to join the ticket.
"Rubio is the complete package-- especially if Romney is the nominee.  He has the potential to bring the tea party, pro-life Catholics, Evangelicals, and Latinos to the table.  In this regard he excites the base and brings them to invest time and money," offered another Republican. "He also helps to deliver Florida to the GOP nominee as Florida is the easiest path for Obama to win the election.  His denials are to keep the attention off of him until the time when he informed that the fate of the Republic rests on his shoulders.  Then he goes all in if asked.  If Santorum wins he has much less need for Rubio than Romney does."
Florida’s junior senator has repeatedly said he has no interest in running for vice president and won’t be on the ticket, but 57 percent of our insiders predicted Rubio would accept the nomination if asked.
"Rubio is attractive but untested under real fire. He could become the Dan Quayle of 2012 if not vetted properly. Great potential, but in the future," said another independent.
Twenty-three percent of the 113 Florida insiders who participated named Rubio as the best pick, 17 percent named Christie, 12 percent preferred Jeb Bush (he’s never ruled it out that we know of, but it’s sure hard to imagine him in a No. 2 role), and 7 percent said Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. Santorum, Virginia Gov. McDonnell, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio each received votes from nearly 3 percent of the insiders.
"Marco deserves the opportunity to mature as a national political figure, but yes, he would help a ticket lacking in star power, and would deliver Florida," said another Republican. "America hasn't really seen Marco on the full stage yet, only those few that follow politics closely at the national level have experienced the Marco presence.  Pick him, and the new ""Game Change"" movie in 2014 would feature Javier Bardem in the role of Albert Martinez."
The survey included 65 Republicans, 39 Democrats, and nine independents. They are:
Cynthia Henderson, Meredith ORourke, Nancy Watkins, Brian Crowley, Ben Pollara, Alex Heckler, Alberto Martinez, Dylan Sumner, Andrew Gillum, Tre' Evers, Eric Johnson, Erin VanSickle, John Stemberger, Kathleen Shanahan, Sally Bradshaw, Steve Schale, Todd Wilder, Cory Tilley, Roger Stone, Lucy Morgan, John Morgan, Frank N. Tsamoutales, Eric Jotkoff, Screven Watson, Towson Fraser, Van B. Poole, Justin Day, Trey McCarley, Stephen Shiver, Ana Navarro, Ana Cruz, Tim Baker, Barry Horenbein, Peter Schorsch, Greg Turbeville, Chris Ingram, Susannah Randolph, Tyler Hudson, John Dowless, Jeffrey garcia, Barbara Lumpkin, Donald Hinkle, Vincent Harris, Kristy Campbell, Robert coker, Mike Hamby, Mark Ferrulo, Damien Filer, Kathy Mears, Henry Kelley, Aubrey Jewett, Sarah Rumpf, Jamie Miller, Bernie Campbell, Jim Rimes, Nancy P. McGowan, Karen unger, Mel sembler, David Johnson, Stephanie Kunkel, Alex sink, David Rancourt, Dan Smith, Carlos Curbelo, Husein Cumber, Ellen Freidin, Dave Aronberg, Apryl Marie Fogel, Richard Gentry, Marc Reichelderfer, Ann Herberger, Thomas Eldon, Kevin Cate, Jill Chamberlin, Gus Corbella, Abel Harding, Kirk Wagar, Richard Swann, Christina Johnson, Alex Burgos, Darryl Paulson, Susie Wiles, Nick Hansen, Greg Truax, Cindy Graves, Rich Heffley, Marty Fiorentino, Scott Arceneaux, Tom Lee, Shannon Gravitte, Brett Doster, Jeff Johnson, Derek Newton, Jim Cherry, Jim Davis, Kirk Fordham, Kenneth Quinnell, Matt Towery, Mark Bubriski, Rockie Pennington, Mike Hanna, Phil Vangelakos, Andy Ford, Al cardenas, Ron Sachs, Rick Dantzler, Carol  Carter, Mark Gilbert, Al Hoffman, Jordan Raynor, David Custin, Mitchell Berger.

President Obama Signs the Payroll Tax Cut

Just now, President Obama signed the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 -- extending the payroll tax cut and emergency jobless benefits through the end of the year.
Last week, the President called on Americans from across the country to add their voices to the debate and let us know what they would do without an extra $40 in their paychecks. Thousands of individuals did exactly that, and it made all the difference.
At the time, President Obama said, "Until you see me sign this thing, you've got to keep on speaking up...If it's not on the White House website, it hasn't happened."
It happened. Here's that picture the President promised:

President Obama signs the payroll tax cut (February 22, 2012)
President Barack Obama signs H.R. 3630 - Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 in the Oval Office, Feb. 22, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
David Plouffe sent an email to the people who shared their stories with the White House, and they were the first folks to get the news. Here's what he said:
Good evening --
 When President Obama asked you to speak out on the payroll tax cut, you jumped into action. Thousands of individuals from across the country wrote in to say what $40 with each paycheck means to their families.
And it worked.
President Obama just signed the legislation extending the tax cut and emergency jobless benefits through the end of the year.
When the President spoke with a group of individuals who came to the White House after sharing their stories, he said, "Until you see me sign this thing, you've got to keep on speaking up...If it's not on the White House website, it hasn't happened."
We just posted a picture of the President signing the bill on Go check it out.
Extending the payroll tax cut was a critical step for middle class families, but we still have a lot more work to do. So get ready.
David Plouffe
Senior Adviser

Miami-Dade and its cities lead nation in federal cuts for social services, economic development

Posted on Wednesday, 02.22.12

The formula used by U.S. Housing and Urban Development to determine economic development and social-service grants will hurt cities nationwide, but none were hit harder than those in Miami-Dade County.


Teacher Odelay Bermudes plays with 7-month-old Gustavo Castaneda in the infant/toddlers area of Centro Mater in Miami. Two of Florida's largest cities, Miami and Hialeah, are among municipalities facing such severe cuts in federal funding for social services that meals to the elderly and after school programs for the poor are in grave peril if the funds aren't restored, officials say.
Teacher Odelay Bermudes plays with 7-month-old Gustavo Castaneda in the infant/toddlers area of Centro Mater in Miami. Two of Florida's largest cities, Miami and Hialeah, are among municipalities facing such severe cuts in federal funding for social services that meals to the elderly and after school programs for the poor are in grave peril if the funds aren't restored, officials say.
Interactive map: Biggest grant losers in 2012
Cities and counties across the nation are losing $356 trillion in direct federal funding for social services in fiscal year 2012 from the Community Development Block Grant fund program, known as CDBG.

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Miami-Dade County and its largest cities — including Hialeah, Miami Beach, Miami and North Miami — are among the nation’s top losers in federal funding for social services, meaning meals for the elderly and afterschool programs for kids face dramatic cutbacks that will hurt thousands of residents.
Hialeah leads the nation: It will receive $1.8 million less in fiscal year 2012 than it did in 2011 from the Community Development Block Grant fund program, known as CDBG, a major source of direct federal dollars. About half of its CDBG money will be lost.
“Children and seniors will be affected,’’ predicted Mayor Carlos Hernandez, who said his city has no way to fill the gap.
North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre, whose city lost 33 percent of its funding, hasn’t come up with a plan to alleviate the pain. “It affects the most vulnerable of our society,” he said.
Miami-Dade County and the four cities comprise one-sixth of the 30 cities and counties suffering the greatest cuts nationwide, according to numbers recently released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which distributes CDBG funds.
Part of the reason: A funding formula that puts great emphasis on the number of housing units available for an area’s population. That hurt here, because 2010 Census figures suggested that enough new residences were built during the real estate boom to significantly decrease the number of “overcrowded’’ housing units.
But the methodology is flawed, South Florida leaders say, because poor people could not afford to move into the ritzy condos and homes that were built in Miami, Miami Beach, Hialeah, North Miami and unincorporated Miami-Dade over the past decade.
“We are being punished because of the housing boom,” said Miami Mayor Tom├ís Regalado. “But the new homes were not for poor people.’’
The 2010 Census reported 20,866 people in the four cities and unincorporated Miami-Dade lived in overcrowded residences. The 2000 Census reported 248,578 — more than 10 times larger.
The funding cuts stemmed in part from the budget standoff in Washington D.C. last year, when more than $1 billion was slashed from CDBG funding. Nationally, Sunbelt states like California and Florida are seeing the most severe reductions.
The breakdown: Hialeah was slashed to $2 million, a drop of 47 percent. Miami Beach lost 42 percent of its funding, down to $910,000. Miami-Dade government plummeted 35 percent to $10.6 million. Miami dropped 34 percent to $4.9 million. And North Miami was cut 33 percent to $744,000.
Broward County government lost 31 percent, and Coral Springs, Hollywood, Margate and Sunrise also were cut.
Block grants were created in the early ‘70s to help cities deal with insufficient local revenues.
At Miami City Hall Thursday morning, in front of hundreds of elderly people who count on the federal assistance for food and transportation, Mayor Regalado will bemoan his cash-strapped city’s plight during a press conference. The mayor hopes to get the ear of President Barack Obama, who will be across town at the University of Miami talking about the improving U.S. economy while campaigning for reelection.
The president, with an executive order, has the ability to leave Miami’s CBDG funding at 2011 levels. But that would require a Census Bureau finding that the 2010 count was flawed, as the city contends, and that a recount is necessary.
Miami formally challenged the census figures in April, saying the city’s population is closer to 500,000 than 400,000. The city blames the low count on chronically under-reported undocumented immigrants and the inability of census counters to get past security guards in the city’s towering condos.
The city also has sponsors in the U.S. House and Senate pushing sister bills that would increase the percentage of CDBG money that can go toward social service. The formula HUD now uses mandates that cities use 85 percent for economic development, and the remaining 15 percent for social services. The bills would hike the 15 percent to 25 percent, taking the difference from the economic development side.
“It’s just going to give the flexibility to local governments,” said U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, who is pushing the bill. “It’s a flawed formula. It just doesn’t make any sense in a logical world.”
HUD Spokesman Jerry Brown said the agency understands how critical the social-service and economic development programs are to South Florida communities.
“We think we did as well as we could,’’ he said. “Unfortunately, that’s what happens during tight budget times.”
Local governments are grappling in different way with the bad news.
Miami-Dade County, which lost $5.7 million, will cut $60,000 from the individual accounts of all 13 commissioners, each of whom was permitted to dole out $200,000 a year in CBDG funds. Commissioners will discuss taking other actions in March.
In Miami Beach, where funding dropped by about $660,000, rehabilitation projects underway on affordable housing units could face delays, said city spokeswoman Nannette Rodriguez.
At the Centro Mater center in Little Havana on Wednesday, it was evident just how the social-service cuts would sting. Every day more than 500 kids attend daycare or an after-school program there. Part of the complex is a converted apartment, where tiny babies take lengthy afternoon naps in new cribs. On Wednesday, 4-year-old Wifredo was celebrating his birthday and eating pizza with about 15 friends, a giant Mickey Mouse balloon tied to his chair.
Administrator Madelyn Rodriguez-Llanes said the cuts likely mean some of the center’s 71 workers will have to leave, and the number of kids receiving services could be whittled.
“If you have kids you have to feed them. We can’t cut meals, that’s not an option,” she said. “It means a direct impact on the population here, less services and employees for our people.”
In Hialeah, the 47-percent cut will drop the city back to funding levels it hasn’t seen since 1977. Frederick Marinelli, the city’s director of grants and human services, said organizations will have to run on leaner budgets while trying to “keep the people-oriented programs intact.” Some of the cuts could come from transportation services, literacy programs, and training and counseling for the handicapped.
Hialeah’s Citrus Health Network, which runs two clinics that provide medical services for about 4,000 uninsured patients, will see its $100,000 subsidy slashed to about $50,000.
“It will just make it a lot more difficult to serve the uninsured,” said Olga Golik, who directs housing and advocacy.
Meanwhile, Ileana Arriola, 62, said she dragged herself to the Allapattah Community Action Center on Tuesday, despite having a cold, because she knew she could get a hot meal.
“I went to the center so I wouldn’t get depressed,” Arriola said Wednesday, as about a dozen folks played dominoes outside. “It’s like they’re taking away our home and our right to live here.’’
Miami Herald staff writers David Smiley, Martha Brannigan and Paradise Ashfar contributed to this report.

Top 10 Companies Hiring This Week

    companies hiring this weekMarch 4 - March 10

    We know that your job search can get quite frustrating these days, with so many people competing for employment opportunities.
    To ease the burden, we've tracked down 10 top companies that are hiring this week -- from sales jobs to finance jobs, full-time to part-time. We hope you'll find a job that's perfect for you.
    Good luck job hunting!

    1. Sears

    Most people recognize Sears as the department store common to countless shopping malls. While its department stores are certainly popular, Sears Holdings operates several other brands as well.
    Sears recently named Ron Boire as its new retail chief. The company has ambitions of transforming its retail business after posting poor holiday sales with both its Sears and Kmart brands. They have also earned the EPA's highest award, the Energy Star Corporate Commitment Award.
    Employee Review: "My favorite thing about working with Sears is the stability. The company has been around for over 100 years and is one of the largest in the world. It has great benefits and work-life balance is excellent. I don't have to worry about being on-call on nights and weekends. They have really great quality people who are easy to get along with."*
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    2. Macy's

    Originally founded as Federated Department Stores in 1929, the company was officially renamed Macy's in 2007. With over 800 stores across the nation, Macy's is one of the largest retail companies in the United States. Macy's sales rose throughout 2010 and it already has announced plans to hire 3,500 employees in the next two years.
    The company estimates that its stores saw a 4.6 percent increase in revenue for the month of February. This is a key gauge of the company's retail health.
    Employee Review: "The management is competent. Employees are given a good discount and still able to use coupons. You can pick up more hours online when they become available."*
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    3. Citi

    With the world's largest financial services network, Citigroup Inc. spans 140 countries and employs roughly 260,000 worldwide. After suffering from massive losses during the financial crisis of 2008, the company fell from the esteemed title of "largest bank in the world by assets." It is, however, still one of the "big four" banks in the United States. By the end of 2010, Citigroup repaid in full the emergency government aid it had received.
    In a recent report, Citi said it increased loans to small businesses in the U.S. throughout 2011. This amount is over 30 percent higher than their small business lending in 2010.
    Employee Review: "Nice co-workers, good hours, pleasant management, good location, interesting work spanning decades of involvement in the country. Good springboard for future jobs."*
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    4. TruGreen

    TruGreen provides a variety of lawn-care-related services including fertilization, targeted insect control and tree care. The company was purchased in 1990 by ServiceMaster, which is one of the nation's largest commercial and residential service networks. ServiceMaster is the company behind brands such as Terminix, American Home Shield and Merry Maids.
    ServiceMaster, the company that owns TruGreen among others, has announced plans to hire up to 6,700 employees over the coming months. Said jobs will be available throughout the United States.
    Employee Review: "TruGreen Landcare is a very good place to work; they pay well and the work keeps you in great condition."*
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    5. UnitedHealth Group

    UnitedHealth Group currently provides health insurance services to over 75 million people worldwide. It also has been actively involved in creating several technological advancements in the health care field, including the development of video conferencing systems for patient/doctor communication, the creation of electronic health records systems, and the release of an iPhone app to locate participating physicians.
    The company recently reported earnings for the fourth quarter of 2011. It met the expectations on revenue, and exceeded its expectations on earnings per share. This bodes well for the start of 2012.
    Employee Review: "I really enjoyed my time at UnitedHealth Group. The trainers were very knowledgeable and were always there to answer any questions that I had. I worked as a claims associate for just a few short months before being promoted to another department. I then went on to work from home! Only left this company because of personal issues not related to my job. Great place to work!"*
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    6. Terminix

    Founded in 1972, Terminix is the largest pest-control company in the world. It operates in 45 states in the U.S. and 14 countries worldwide. Although originally operated independently, Terminix is now a division of ServiceMaster and headquartered in Memphis, Tenn. The company offers franchise opportunities to areas not directly represented by Terminix.
    Terminix, along with sister company TruGreen, is hosting job fairs nationwide in the hopes of filling new positions. It hopes to fill at least 175 positions at a new call center in Tampa, Fla., during the first quarter of 2012.
    Employee Review: "Flexible work environment. Good products and service to sell. They would give you very good product backup to use as leverage against competition."*
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    7. Lockheed Martin

    Lockheed Martin, based in Bethesda, Md., is one of the largest defense contractors in the nation, and currently has about 140,000 employees worldwide. The company is the defense department's largest contractor in terms of sales, with $19 billion in contracts awarded in 2011.
    With the recent military spending revisions from the Obama administration, Lockheed Martin has emerged as the biggest winner.
    Employee review: "The senior leadership is very competent and there are many opportunities to move around in your career. They offer great benefits and the work that you do is fulfilling."*
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    8. Avis

    Avis Budget Group, headquartered in Parsippany, N.J., is a leading vehicle rental agency in North America, Australia, New Zealand and other regions that the company serves. The company's fleet has more than 350,000 vehicles and ABG completed more than 23 million rental transactions in 2009.
    Among the company's efforts to streamline the car rental process is its iPhone app, which allows customers to make, change or check reservations on the go. The company is also keen on using surveys to solicit feedback. Such surveys led Avis to be the first company in the industry to offer a completely smoke-free fleet.
    Avis Budget Group recently enlisted in the "100,000 Jobs Mission," a coalition of major corporations committed to employing 100,000 military veterans by 2020.
    Employee Review: "You do get good health benefits and a company car. Airports are the best places to work in this company...."*
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    9. Bed, Bath & Beyond

    Founded in 1971 and headquartered in New Jersey, Bed, Bath & Beyond has achieved success thanks to a unique blend of merchandise, store layout and management techniques.
    The company has over 1,000 stores and operates under a few brand names, including Bed, Bath & Beyond, Christmas Tree Shops and Harmon Stores. It purchased Buy Buy Baby Inc. in 2007, in order to widen its customer base and better appeal to prospective and current parents.
    With $1.52 billion in cash, Bed, Bath & Beyond is among the top companies in the U.S. with zero debt. This may bode well for long-term job security.
    Employee Review: "I love working for a company that is actually concerned about customer service. We put customer service as our No. 1 priority...."*

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    10. Pilot Flying J

    Based in Knoxville, Tenn., the family-owned company is the result of a recent merger between Pilot Travel Centers and Flying J travel centers. The company was originally formed as Pilot Travel Centers in 2001. Travel centers are operated under both brands, totaling around 550 locations.
    Pilot Flying J recently announced their acquisition of Western Petroleum LLC, a strategy intended to help build their presence in the mining industry.

    Pilot Flying J also has adopted "business intelligence software" with the goal of reducing operation costs among other analytics.
    Employee Review: "Available opportunity to advance within the company. Once you understand all the processes involved, the business is all about maintaining standards."*
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    *All employee reviews provided courtesy of
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