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US and EU to explore trade talks November 29, 2011


Barack Obama: ”We’ve got a stake in their (Europe’s) success and will continue work in a constructive way to try to resolve this issue”

US and EU leaders have said at the conclusion of a White House summit that they could launch bilateral trade talks to boost jobs and growth.

They announced a joint working group to explore how to enhance the “untapped potential” of transatlantic economic co-operation.

The statement followed wide-ranging talks between US President Barack Obama and European Union leaders.

The US and EU account for around half of the world’s economic output.

The 27 countries of the eurozone make up the largest trading partner for the US.

Doing ‘the unthinkable’

Foreign aid and cybersecurity were also on the agenda as President Obama met EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Monday.

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If I am right, they will still be biting their fingers in the White House and speed-dialling Europe furiously as we head to the holiday season ”

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But the eurozone debt crisis loomed over their talks.

President Obama said after the meeting that this issue was of “huge importance” to the US economy.

“I communicated to them that the United States stands ready to do our part to help them resolve this issue,” he said, adding that it would be tougher to create jobs at home if European markets were contracting.

The two sides said in a joint statement: “We must intensify our efforts to realise the untapped potential of transatlantic economic co-operation to generate new opportunities for jobs and growth.”

It is thought the working group could look at the possibility of cutting tariffs and other regulation that might hamper trade.

The group, to be headed by EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht and US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, would “identify and assess options for strengthening the EU-US economic relationship, especially those that have the highest potential to support jobs and growth”, said the statement.

An interim report is expected next June, with the final recommendations due by the end of 2012.

After the meeting, Mr Van Rompuy told journalists that the EU had been taking hitherto “unthinkable” measures to try to restore growth.

“But we have to do more,” he added.

Although the US has struck free trade deals with countries around the world in recent years, it has not engaged in bilateral trade talks with the EU.

This is said to be partly out of concern it might detract from the Doha round of world trade talks. But those negotiations have dragged on for more than a decade with no clear end in sight.

Monday’s summit was held as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development warned the eurozone economy was shrinking and that the UK could dip back into recession.

But world markets were up in response to reports of a proposed fiscal union that would set binding limits on eurozone government borrowing.

US-EU trade was up 15% in the first nine months of 2011, despite uncertainty in the global economy.

Trade between the US and EU is worth around $3.6bn (£2.3bn) per day and overall investment between the two supports around 7.1m jobs, according to the US Trade Representative’s office.

The statement from Monday’s summit also touched on issues on which the US and EU broadly agree – such as concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme, nurturing clean energy technology and encouraging democracy in the wake of the Arab Spring.

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Middle incomes: the American nightmare | Editorial November 28, 2011

The US economy is now almost thrice as big as in the early 1970s – and yet the typical working man finds not a dime of this transformative growth in his pay packet. At an outstanding event in London last week, the Resolution Foundation assembled experts from both sides of the Atlantic to consider the great undeclared class war which has robbed America’s workforce of the fast-growing fruits of their labour for so long. Britons would do well to familiarise themselves with this tale of the 40-year squeeze, because there are chilling signs of something similar getting under way here.

In conquering the economy, America’s rich have made occasional daylight raids – such as the Bush tax cuts, worth 100 times more to the million-a-year brigade than to the great bulk of the workforce. More often Mammon has triumphed by stealth: outsourcing labour, and with it responsibility for terms and conditions; capturing the committees that set bosses’ pay; and darting into every space vacated by the trade unions. The cumulative effects were breathtaking. While the old promise of rising prosperity was being breached for the many, the top 1% quadrupled their disposable income. Back in the 1960s it would have been assumed that such a sustained riot of the rich would incur a revolution. In the event, cheap credit, working wives and occasional targeted tax breaks combined to allow families to eke out a niggardly increase in living standards in most years. But looking ahead, the crumbs of comfort are hard to spot: feminising the workforce is a trick that can’t be pulled twice, and all that easy credit ended up crunched.

During the late 20th century, middle Britain avoided going middle America’s way. Despite inequality, most of our people, most of the time, had never had it so good. Through the 1970s and even the 80s sizable unions helped secure decent rises, at least for those lucky enough to hang on to their jobs. Then in the late 1990s came the minimum wage and Gordon Brown’s tax credits. The importance of these two interventions cannot be overstated: tax credits, in particular, accounted for the lion’s share of the total rise enjoyed by many families from the middle right the way down to the bottom of the pile. But even before the slump, progress was faltering, and there is nothing to restart it in prospect. Last week, the High Pay Commission warned that we were rocketing back towards the inequality of the Oliver Twist era. Meanwhile, official figures revealed that the pay of ordinary folk was sliding – and sliding most for the most ordinary of all.

George Osborne is not totally blind to the political problems of plutocrats partying while everyone else endures parsimony – don’t forget he laid the first populist glove on the non-doms. But he has neither the strategy nor the desire to narrow the gap systematically. In Tuesday’s autumn statement the gesture to those of modest means will be measured in pennies off at the petrol pump – while other moves could actually pick poor pockets. Before the election Nick Clegg seemed attuned to the squeezed middle’s lot, pushing tax cuts for lower earners in deliberate contrast to Mr Brown’s preoccupation with children in poverty. Now, however, his giveaways have been overwhelmed by a VAT hike and slashed tax credits.

Which leaves Ed Miliband, whose “squeezed middle” phrase has been named word of the year. He is clearly attuned to the problem, even if he has slipped towards describing the plight of “the 99%” as opposed to the “middle”. The real question is how he credibly answers the wage rage, when there is no money to spend. Tax, regulation and company law could all have a role in narrowing the gap, as part of his avowed wider wish to promote productive over predatory business. But he has yet to think through how. It is high time someone explained how cash-strapped middle Britain can be saved from going the American way.

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Black Friday sales start with pepper spray stampede November 25, 2011

Shoppers in the US kicked off their annual “Black Friday” orgy of consumerism amid scenes of pushing, pulling, running and – in one case – pepper-spraying their way through the doors of the nation’s shops and malls.

The annual tradition, when many stores open early with cut-price sales on the day after Thanksgiving, has become a source of controversy amid frequent scenes of near-rioting and injuries as mobs of people crowd into big-name shops.

But few can have expected even the most determined of bargain-hunters to adopt the brutal tactics of one female shopper in a Los Angeles suburb who attacked her rivals with pepper-spray: a substance more recently associated with police brutality against Occupy Wall Street protesters.

At least 20 people, including several children, were injured as the woman deployed her weapon. “I heard screaming and I heard yelling. Moments later my throat stung. I was coughing really bad,” said Matthew Lopez, a shopper who recounted his story to the Los Angeles Times.

The woman, whom witnesses said appeared to be defending an X-Box games console, has not been found or yet identified. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the gigantic store remained open amid the mayhem and other shoppers continued to roam the aisles filling their trolleys with goods.

The incident occurred late on Thanksgiving evening as the Walmart – like some other stores – had pushed back its Black Friday opening to begin late on Thursday.

The day gets its name from the idea that the period after Thanksgiving marks the part of the year when many shops finally get in the “black” and start turning a profit for the year.

But America in 2011 is stranded in a moribund economy marked by sluggish growth and a headline jobless rate stuck around 9%. Many retailers have pinned their hopes on a strong shopping season in the run up to Christmas and will be looking pouring through data from Black Friday for signs of increased spending.

Experts expect 152m people to hit the shops over the Black Friday weekend, up 27% on last year, with many retailers hoping for a desperately needed shot-in-the-arm to consumer spending in a still battered economy.

Even Apple, which has until now eschewed a discounting policy, cut its prices for one day on Friday.

Elsewhere in America the queues and rush to get through the doors was a little more steady and less violen than in Los Angeles. There were several shooting incidents, in Florida and in North Carolina, but it was far from clear these were directly linked to Black Friday shopping.  

Yet, despite the problems, millions of people queued up outside stores in order to be first inside and snap up some of the bargains on offer on anything from TVs and consumer electronics to fashion and furniture. At Macy’s in New York an estimated 9,000 people waited in the street for a midnight opening.

In recent years, as media coverage of the event has grown and scenes of rioting and stampedes have become more common, Black Friday has drawn its share of criticism.

However, this year, as the Occupy movement has sprung up across the country, shoppers in some parts of America have also been joined by protesters trying to persuade them to put down their bags and go home, or at least avoid large chains and shop smaller and more locally.

Some campaigners called for a boycott of stores by consumers, though judging by the mayhem and huge queues that had little impact. Elsewhere protests were held at stores. At Macy’s in Manhattan a small group of people chanted “Occupy it, don’t buy it” to waiting shoppers.

In places such as Seattle protesters planned to hold rallies outside Walmarts in the city. In the small city of Boise, Idaho, a local Occupy group aimed to dress up as the undead to symbolise “consumer zombies”.

In Iowa “flash mobs” of protesters were set to target malls to try and convince shoppers to stay or away or think more politically about their purchases.

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European Leaders Discuss Eurozone Debt Crisis November 24, 2011

French and German leaders met with Italy’s new prime minister Thursday, promising to change EU treaties to allow for closer financial integration. They hope such changes will prevent future economic problems like the current eurozone debt crisis.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti all said they would work to stabilize Europe’s economy and support the common euro currency. They gathered in Strasbourg, France,

Italy is the latest of the 17 nations using the euro to face economic problems stemming largely from huge government debts. Monti told his counterparts that Italian political parties would work together to balance the country’s budget in 2013. Monti replaced Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi earlier this month.

Germany, France and Italy are the three largest economies in the eurozone. French officials have proposed allowing the European Central Bank to act as a lender of last resort for troubled eurozone economies, and called for borrowing through the sale of common eurozone bonds, rather than those issued by each individual country. Merkel has opposed both ideas – which would require more German support for the continent’s weaker economies.

One of those economies, Portugal, saw its credit rating downgraded by Fitch on Thursday.  The global ratings agency says Portugal’s large fiscal imbalances, large debt and adverse macroeconomic outlook mean its debt is no longer investment grade.

Investors are growing more worried about even the strongest European economy. On Wednesday, an auction of German 10-year bonds failed to find buyers for more than $2 billion of the $6 billion in bonds offered with 2 percent interest rates.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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US quarterly growth revised down

The revised figures still show that the economy is growing faster than earlier in the year

The US economy grew at a slower pace than previously estimated in the three months to the end of September.

Revised figures from the US Commerce Department show gross domestic product grew at an annual pace of 2% in the period, down from the previous estimate of 2.5%.

Despite the downward revision, the quarter’s growth was still up from the April-June period’s 1.3% figure.

The revision was largely due a prior over-estimate of restocking by firms.

Japan’s earthquake seriously disrupted the global supply chain earlier in the year. High energy prices have also weighed heavily on consumer spending.

However, continued restocking and lower fuel prices recently, has led economists to speculate that US fourth-quarter growth could rise to an annualised rate of more than 3%, which would be the fastest in 18 months.

Vimombi Nshom, economist at IFR Economics, said: “Although growth was downsized, it’s still the strongest showing of 2011, with GDP’s largest component – consumer spending – holding on to its developments from Q2.”

Consumer spending growth was revised slightly down to 2.3% from 2.4%, but it was still the quickest pace since the fourth quarter of 2010.

The Commerce Department said that after-tax corporate profits increased at a 3% rate after rising 4.3% in the second quarter.

Export growth was stronger than previously estimated, rising at a 4.3% rate instead of 4%. Imports increased at a much slower 0.5% rate rather than 1.9%.

‘Disappointing’

The report showed that real disposable income fell 2.1% in the third quarter after declining 0.5% in the prior three months.

There were also small revisions to business investment, which rose at a 14.8% rate instead of 16.3%.

Despite the latest GDP data being broadly welcomed by many analysts, Michael Mullaney, fund manager at Fiduciary Trust, said: “This is somewhat disappointing.

“The positives are that personal consumption is still OK, but I’m concerned because that seems to be coming at the expense of personal savings.

“We’re in the camp that there’s at least a 50% chance of a double dip so it doesn’t surprise us that the number is softer.”

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Obama heckled as Occupy protesters drown out President in New Hampshire


November 24, 2011

by legitgov

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‘Banksters are destroying America!’: Obama heckled as Occupy protesters drown out President in New Hampshire –President paused as ‘Mic check!’ echoed through crowd 23 Nov 2011 President Barack Obama was heckled today as he gave a speech in New Hampshire about the state of the U.S. economy. Mr Obama, trailed by Occupy Wall Street protesters, dashed into the state for his speaking event at Central High School in Manchester. There, he stood face-to-face with those calling themselves ‘the 99 per cent’ fighting economic inequality. But as he began, activists drowned out his remarks, chanting: ‘Over 4,000 peaceful protesters have been arrested while “banksters” continue to destroy the American economy.’

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Republican Mitt Romney defends ad’s quote of 2008 Obama without context, calls it fair game


November 23, 2011

by legitgov

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Republican Mitt Romney defends ad’s quote of 2008 Obama without context, calls it fair game 23 Nov 2011 Republican presidential candidate [sociopath] Mitt Romney is defending a TV ad that quotes President Barack Obama out of context, signaling he’s ready for bare-knuckled campaigning despite sharp complaints from Democrats and some neutral observers. Romney said while campaigning in Iowa Wednesday that the ad is fair game. The ad, which began airing in New Hampshire Tuesday uses audio of then-Sen. Obama campaigning in the state in 2008, saying: “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” The ad omits any acknowledgement that Obama was quoting the campaign of his opponent, 2008 GOP nominee John McCain. Instead, the ad leaves the impression that it is Obama who does not want to discuss the economy.

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Europe’s Debt Crisis: Spain, France Face Higher Borrowing Costs November 18, 2011

The European debt crisis touched Spain and France Thursday, with both countries now forced to pay more to finance their governments.

Spain, Europe’s fourth biggest economy, sold nearly $5 billion in government bonds Thursday at a big 7 percent interest rate. That is the same rate that Greek, Irish, and Portuguese bonds hit before those countries were forced to ask for bailouts. But Spanish Finance Minister Elena Salgado says the country is “absolutely not at risk” of needing a bailout.

Also Thursday, French government bonds were selling at an interest rate more than double what Germany pays even though both countries have the same top AAA credit ratings.

Governments sell bonds to investors to raise revenue. The higher the interest rate, the more those governments have to pay back the investors when the bonds mature.

With investors worried about the spread of the European debt crisis, stocks fell Thursday in London, Paris and Frankfurt. U.S. stocks were also sharply lower Thursday.

In Athens Thursday, masked youths threw firebombs at police, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades. It was the first major rally against the new Greek coalition government of Prime Minister Lucas Papademos. His government is seeking to impose spending cuts, eliminate government jobs, and increase taxes as it tries avoid bankruptcy with the next $11 billion installment of last year’s bailout.

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Italy’s Monti Sets Agenda for New Government

Italy’s new prime minister, Mario Monti, said on Thursday the country faces a major emergency, and promised rigor and fairness in sweeping reforms to dig Italy out of a major financial crisis.

Prime Minister Mario Monti, sworn in at the presidential palace in Rome Wednesday, presented his legislative agenda and plans to stimulate economic growth to the upper house of parliament.

He told the country that the end of the euro would cause the disintegration of the united market, its rules and institutions. Outlining the priorities for his government, Mr. Monti said he would concentrate on reigning in Italy’s spending and spurring growth.

He said he would focus on lowering Italy’s massive public debt, which stands today at 120 percent of GDP. He indicated Italians would be paying new taxes. But he also said he would fight tax evasion and black market labor.

REUTERS

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti reads his speech during a vote of confidence at the Senate in Rome, November 17, 2011

The new prime minister said the government must focus on women and young people so that they can enter the workforce.

But not all Italians are convinced the plan will work.

Students and workers took to the streets in various Italian cities Thursday to protest the austerity measures.

Police scuffled with students in Milan and in Turin. In Palermo, demonstrators hurled eggs and smoke bombs at a bank, and protesters threw rocks at police. And in Rome, hundreds of students marched to the Senate, where the new prime minister gave his first speech.

One student said that the government plans to make them pay for a debt they did not create. He said the government will implement the same measures that the previous Berlusconi government was planning but in a harsher way and will increase cuts even more.

Mr. Monti will serve as economy minister as well as prime minister for the time being. Analysts say restoring market confidence is crucial because it is the third largest economy in the eurozone. They say that a debt default by Italy could break up the eurozone as it is too big for Europe to rescue.

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White House reveals plans to boost cars’ fuel efficiency November 17, 2011

The Obama administration proposed Wednesday increasing cars’ fuel efficiency to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, a White House energy priority that has come under scrutiny in Congress.

The plan grew out of an uneasy agreement between the administration, automakers and environmental groups to reduce US dependence on oil imports and cut tailpipe emissions.

Regulators hope to finalise the proposal by summer following a 60-day public comment period. The administration wants to give industry five years to develop fuel-saving technologies further and plan products before the rule would start taking effect in 2017.

“We expect this programme will not only save consumers money, but ensure automakers have the regulatory certainty they need to make key decisions,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.

Current standards require automakers to raise efficiency from 27 miles per gallon today to 35.4mpg by 2016.

Targets beginning in 2017 would require a 5% annual efficiency gain for cars and 3.5 to 5% for light trucks, which include SUVs, pick-ups and vans.

Thirteen major automakers, including General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota and Honda have signed on to the fuel deal.

Automakers – especially truck-heavy US vehicle producers – consider the 54.5 mpg target ambitious, and the proposal estimates it could cost them $157bn to meet it.

“The proposed regulations present aggressive targets, and the administration must consider that technology breakthroughs will be required and consumers will need to buy our most energy-efficient technologies in very large numbers to meet the goals,” Mitch Bainwol, chief executive of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers trade group, said in a statement.

President Barack Obama has made fuel efficiency a signature environmental and energy priority since cars and trucks account for 20% of carbon emissions and more than 40% of US oil consumption.

But the role of federal environmental regulators and the state of California – a leader in efforts to reduce emissions – in developing auto standards has rankled the Republican-led House of Representatives.

Republican members of the Oversight Committee, who are scrutinising Obama’s “green economy” agenda, have challenged administration assumptions on who can regulate gas mileage and emissions under federal law.

It is unclear whether the panel’s investigation would slow or derail the regulation, especially should Obama fail to win re-election next November.

The proposal envisions reducing oil imports by 2.2m barrels per day by 2025, offsetting almost a quarter of current American use of foreign petroleum.

The average fuel economy for new vehicles is now 2.5mpg more than four years ago, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

Automakers would rely on numerous conventional engine, transmission and component technologies and lighter vehicle designs to meet the new standard, even though Obama is pushing further electric and hybrid car improvements and the plan includes strong incentives for their development.

GM’s Chevy Cruze, Ford’s Focus and Hyundai Motor’s Elantra are new, small car entrants powered by conventional engines that are popular with consumers as gasoline prices now average about $3.43 per gallon in a rough economy.

Dozens of fuel-efficient vehicles were on display at this week’s Los Angeles Auto show.

“Our surveys show car buyers want better fuel standards, particularly because they want to spend less on gasoline,” said Shannon Baker Branstetter, policy counsel for Consumers Union.

Efficiency improvements would save consumers an average of up to $6,600 in fuel costs over the lifetime of a model-year 2025 vehicle, but they would pay up to $2,200 on average for more fuel efficient vehicles, according to the proposal.

Although environmental groups pushed for a tougher standard, they lined up behind the proposal. They said, however, that actual fuel economy would come in lower than 54.5mpg due to real-world driving factors.

They also said regulators still need to tighten provisions favoring production of less efficient, bigger pickups and SUVs, a complaint of European automakers that did not sign on to the agreement.

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Monti Sworn in as New Italian PM

Economist Mario Monti has been sworn in as Italy’s new prime minister, with a mandate to restore stability to the country’s economy and respectability to its politics.

At European Union headquarters in early October he was an affable and popular Italian university president.

Little did anyone there know that a few weeks later he would be appointed to the Italian Senate, and almost immediately asked to be the country’s next prime minister.

Monti said that during “a moment of particular difficulty,” he wants to restore Italy’s economic strength, with a focus on growth.

That was the topic of the conference in Brussels, where said there must be more to Europe’s recovery plan than just austerity in the troubled economies.

“The whole apparatus that it was necessary to set up in order to ensure fiscal discipline maybe has not paid enough attention to some growth elements, like public investments,” said Monti.

The French and German leaders, heading two of Europe’s strongest economies, are the most insistent advocates of austerity in Italy and the other troubled countries.  Before he knew he’d be joining their ranks, Mr. Monti had this evaluation of European leaders’ performance during the crisis.

“They are on a good track, I must say, relative to the past,” he said. “They need to do more in terms of, each of them, reasoning as a co-decision maker in Europe, and not just as a national leader.”

Monti’s stature and experience no doubt helped him in meetings to garner support for his new government.

He is a strong advocate of European economic integration, and spent 10 years as a senior EU economics official.  The 68-year-old economist is also a corporate adviser and a member of several top-level international groups of senior officials and business executives.  But he has never before held office in Rome.

Italian-born political economist Leila Simona Talani of London’s King’s College says Mr. Monti is the right man for what she calls her home country’s “slightly desperate” situation.

“He is a personality that could give some credibility to the Italian economic policy making and reassure the markets and also implement policies that have meaning, meaningful policies, especially liberalization,” said Talani.

That dose of credibility is needed after the long and tumultuous tenure of Silvio Berlusconi, who was forced to resign because of the economic crisis.

In the VOA interview, Mr. Monti indicated he wants to rebuild the relationships that have been damaged by the crisis.

“It’s of great importance not to allow the tensions associated with the euro zone crisis, and sometimes the bad feelings among various people and member states, lead to some fragmentation or backward movement in the single market,” said Monti. “This would be devastating for Europe.”

Mr. Monti’s task will not be easy.  Like their neighbors in Greece, some Italians have taken to the streets to express their anger at the austerity plan the new prime minister will have to implement.  And investors will be watching closely to see whether his policies and his leadership are strong enough to ease their concerns about Italy’s financial future.  

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Eurozone Economy Nearly Static in Third Quarter November 15, 2011

The eurozone economy barely advanced in the July-to-September period, weighted down by the financial woes in debt-ridden Greece and Italy.

The European Union said Tuesday that the economy in the 17-nation bloc that uses the euro currency expanded just two-tenths of one percent in the third quarter, largely supported by bigger growth in the continent’s two biggest economies in Germany and France. But the Greek economy retracted by 5.2 percent in the quarter, while economists think Italy also may have slipped into a recession.

Stocks fell on major exchanges in London, Paris and Frankfurt as investors continued to worry about the ability of fledgling coalition governments in Athens and Rome to adopt unpopular austerity measures to control deficits and pay back long-term debts.

Greek government workers staged a protest march through Athens on Tuesday against planned wage cuts on top of earlier salary cuts. More demonstrations are planned for later in the week.

The Greek Parliament is preparing for a confidence vote Wednesday on the caretaker government of its new prime minister, Lucas Papademos, and analysts say he is expected to prevail. Greek financial leaders are set to meet Friday with members of the International Monetary Fund, European Central bank and the EU in an effort to secure release of Greece’s next next $11-billion loan installment to keep it from defaulting next month on its international obligations.

In Rome, prime minister-designate Mario Monti won crucial support from Italy’s two main political groups as he moved to name his Cabinet. He said Monday he wants the government to stay on until 2013, the scheduled date for new elections, even as some Italian lawmakers are calling for earlier elections.

The government’s debt woes put new pressure on Monti to move quickly to name government leaders, with the country’s interest rate on its debt again topping 7 percent on Tuesday. That is the threshold that forced Greece, Ireland and Portugal to seek international bailouts.

The EU said Germany’s economy expanded by one-half of one percent in the third quarter, buttressed by increased household spending and by businesses investing in machinery and new equipment. The French economy advanced by four-tenths of a percent.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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US retail sales see steady rise

There was an increase in sales across a number of sectors including groceries

US retail sales rose again in October, offering further signs of hope to the country’s economy.

Sales were up by 0.5% over the previous month, beating economists’ forecasts, and following a 1.1% rise the previous month.

US Department of Commerce figures showed sales rose in a number of sectors, including motor vehicles, electrical goods and groceries.

It was the fifth straight month that sales had increased.

The data is closely watched because consumer spending accounts for 70% of US economic activity.

Mixed picture

Excluding vehicle sales the data showed a 0.7% gain, the biggest rise in so-called “core” sales since March.

For the year as a whole total sales registered a 7.2% improvement.

Not all sectors reported better numbers. Sales at clothing stores fell 0.7% last month, the largest fall since December 2010, and furniture sales also fell by 0.7%.

That was offset by a rise in sales of electrical goods and appliances of 3.7%, and receipts from building material retailers increased by 1.5%.

“The economy seems to be in solid shape,” said Alex Hoder, an economist at FTN Financial in New York.

“Growth is not strong, but it is not too bad either, and much better than the fourth-quarter recession many were expecting just a few months ago.”

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Germany’s Merkel Calls for United Europe

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is calling for a stronger political union in Europe to overcome the bloc’s debt crisis. She called the crisis the continent’s “toughest hour since World War II.” And, in Italy, Prime Minister-designate Mario Monti was hard at work choosing members of his Cabinet.  

Addressing thousands of delegates of her conservative party, Chancellor Angela Merkel made clear that Germany will have to make more sacrifices to deal with financial events in Europe.

Today, she said, Europe is in one of its toughest hours, maybe the toughest hour since World War II. It must be clear to us that we must not be discouraged by that. In 2008, she said, we managed to overcome the financial crisis with the motto that Germany would come out stronger from this crisis than we entered it. Now we must succeed in getting Europe out of this crisis stronger than when it entered it.

Merkel added that the European Union’s structure must be developed further. That, she said, means creating a Europe that ensures that the euro has a future.

The German chancellor said the euro is far more than just a currency. It is the symbol of European unification and it has become the symbol for half a century of peace, freedom and prosperity.

The leader of Europe’s biggest economy stressed that if the euro fails, so will Europe.

In Italy, Prime Minister-designate Mario Monti began talks Monday to create a new government of non-political experts. The effort follows the resignation of Silvio Berlusconi and the approval by parliament of emergency austerity and reform measures.

But political analyst James Walston, at Rome’s American University, says the fact that Berlusconi has stepped down does not mean he has abandoned politics.

“Berlusconi made his position very clear when he left on Sunday. He sent a video message to Italy saying that he is not finished, that he was – first of all he said he was very upset in personal terms because he has been, because of the celebrations when he left – but then in terms of substance he said he would double his efforts to continue his idea of renewing Italy,” said Walston. “So at the moment, he is certainly not retired, he is not the retiring type.”

Monti, a 68-year-old economics professor, has pledged to act “with a sense of urgency” to identify ministers in the new government and has said he hopes to secure a strong team. He was meeting various political parties throughout the day.

After he draws up what is expected to be a small Cabinet of technocrats and lays out its priorities, he will need to ensure that he has enough support in parliament to govern. Monti’s new government will be tasked with implementing economic reforms aimed at reviving a stagnant economy and decreasing public debt.

German Chancellor Merkel has welcomed signs of an end to the weeks of uncertainty in Italy. Monti could visit either France or Germany to meet Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy within a week of a new government being in place.

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Merkel: Financial Crisis Could be Europe’s Toughest Time Since War November 14, 2011

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the eurozone’s financial problems may be Europe’s biggest crisis since World War Two.  She called for closer political ties among European nations, and overhauling the European Union’s treaties to meet the challenge.

On Monday, Ms. Merkel told party members that a united Europe could fail if the 17-nation eurozone that uses a common currency breaks up over debt problems in Greece, Italy and other nations. Germany is Europe’s strongest economy, and the chancellor’s comments came as new leaders in Italy and Greece try to cope with massive debt and slow growth that could hurt the eurozone’s economy.

Italy was able to borrow more than $4 billion in a new bond sale Monday. The interest rate was the highest since 1997, but analysts said the good response to the sale and gains in Asian stock markets show growing investor confidence in Italy since economist Mario Monti was named to be prime minister.

Mr. Monti said Sunday he will work quickly to form a new government for the eurozone’s third largest economy.  The prime minister-designate must present the names of his Cabinet ministers to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano before he can be sworn in.  He is expected to announce his choices Monday.

A former European Union competition commissioner, Mr. Monti received support for the top job from major opposition parties and some members of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s ruling center-right PDL party.

Mr. Monti has never held elected office in Italy and does not represent any Italian political party.  He would lead the country until the next elections, due by 2013.  

The new government faces the challenge of implementing a major austerity package recently approved by parliament to cut the country’s huge public debt. EU leaders called Mr. Monti’s appointment an “encouraging sign,” but they promised to carefully watch the situation in Italy.

EU leaders have been pressuring Italy to cut public spending to avoid becoming the latest eurozone member to request a bailout. EU officials worry that the Italian economy is too big to be rescued, and they fear its demise would seriously hurt the euro.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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Obama says yuan moves not enough


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President Obama says China should move to a market based system for its currency

US President Barack Obama has said that China is not doing enough to allow its currency to rise in value.

Speaking at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Hawaii, President Obama said China needed to follow the same rules as other nations.

The value of the yuan has been a key point of conflict between the US and China over recent years.

Earlier on Sunday, the 21 Apec member nations agreed to increase trade to bolster global growth.

However, Mr Obama warned that China’s currency policy distorted global trade.

The US President said most economists agreed that China’s currency is undervalued by between 20 and 25%.

He added that this makes US goods much more expensive in China, and Chinese good that much cheaper in the US – giving China an unfair trade advantage.

“There has been slight improvement over the last year but it hasn’t been enough,” President Obama told a press conference at the end of the two-day talks in Honolulu.

Trade liberalisation

The leaders said in a statement earlier on Sunday that Europe’s fiscal crisis and natural disasters such as Japan’s earthquake had strengthened the resolve to work more closely together.


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John Quelch of the China-Europe International Business School says China, a dominant economy in the region, is not likely to join trade talks till later

“We recognise that further trade liberalisation is essential to achieving a sustainable global recovery in the aftermath of the global recession of 2008-2009.”

However analysts said whether those promises were turned into action when the leaders returned home remained to be seen.

Increasing trade also means opening up markets to foreign competition, something some Asia Pacific countries have been reluctant to do in the past.

For his part, President Obama has been pushing the region to open up its borders, calling US engagement in the Asia Pacific region “absolutely critical” to America’s prosperity.

And he was able to garner more support at the summit for a US-led regional free trade agreement called the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Regional pact

On Sunday, Canada and Mexico said they would join talks to remove trade barriers.

“We looked at the outline of the criteria set by the partnership and they are all criteria that Canada can easily meet. So it is something we’re interested in moving forward on,” said Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

It comes after Japan, the third largest economy in the world, agreed to participate in talks on the agreement as well, giving legitimacy to the pact which notably does not include China.

Before the summit the TPP agreement included only smaller economies such as Singapore, Malaysia and New Zealand.

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Obama outlines Pacific trade plan November 13, 2011

Barack Obama said the TPP deal could be finalised next year

US President Barack Obama has announced the broad outlines of a plan to create a trans-Pacific free trade zone at an annual regional summit in Hawaii.

“I’m confident we can get this done,” Mr Obama said at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) talks.

Nine Apec nations are involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but China has so far not expressed interest in joining the talks.

In all, 21 Apec countries account for about 44% of global trade.

They also make up some 40% of the world’s population.

Speaking in Honolulu on Saturday, Mr Obama said: “Together we can boost exports and create more goods available for our consumers, create new jobs. Compete, win in the markets of the future.”

Iran response

Describing the region as an engine for growth, he expressed hopes that the TPP deal could be finalised as early as next year.

The US leader also said the TPP could serve as a model for other trade pacts. He did not provide further details about the plan.

President Obama warned China about US irritation over Chinese economic policy

Mr Obama had separate meetings with the Chinese and Russian Presidents, on the sidelines of the Apec summit.

In his meeting with the Chinese President, Hu Jintao, Mr Obama pressed him to allow the Chinese currency, the yuan, to rise, and on the need for a rebalancing of the global economy, White House officials said.

Mr Obama also warned the Chinese president that Americans were becoming impatient over US-China economic ties.

In his meeting with the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, Mr Obama discussed Afghanistan, Iran and Syria, among other subjects.

Mr Obama said they “reaffirmed our intention to work and shape a common response so we can move Iran to follow its international obligations when it comes to its nuclear programme”.

Japan ‘boldness’

The TPP currently includes Chile, New Zealand, Brunei and Singapore – all relatively small economies – with the US, Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Peru negotiating to join.

And Japan, the world’s third largest economy, has now said it also wants to join the discussions.

President Obama said he had been “extremely impressed with the boldness” of the Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, whose decision to join free trade talks is strongly opposed by Japan’s farmers.

Mr Obama spoke after holding his first substantive talks with the new Japanese Prime Minister at the Apec summit.

Mr Noda told the US president that he was beginning steps to “review Japan’s beef import restrictions and expand market access for US beef”, the White House said in a statement.

While not taking part in the TPP discussions, Chinese President Hu Jintao said in Honolulu that he backed a long-term goal of negotiating a free trade area in the region, which could in future include all Apec members.

Mr Hu said Beijing would focus on innovation and encourage investment overseas.

The BBC’s Kim Ghattas in Washington says the US sees Asia as essential to America’s future, both economically and strategically.

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Obama to host Apec Hawaii summit November 12, 2011

Hillary Clinton called for a more dynamic trans-Pacific system

US President Barack Obama has gone to Hawaii, where this weekend he is hosting leaders from Asia Pacific countries at the annual Apec summit.

The heads of state are expected to discuss how to tackle the global financial crisis.

In particular, they are looking to protect the region from Europe’s economic difficulties.

President Obama is hoping to establish a free trade zone with several countries in the region.

The 21 members of Apec account for about 40% of the world’s population and 44% of global trade.

The meeting, which brings together leaders from Russia to Chile, is focused on creating jobs and business through measures like investment in infrastructure.

The BBC’s Kim Ghattas in Washington says the United States sees Asia as essential to America’s future, both economically and strategically.

High stakes

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in opening a meeting of foreign and economic ministers in Honolulu that many forces outside the Pacific region would have an impact on it.

“Global trends and world events have given us a full and formidable agenda,” she said. “And the stakes are high for all of us.”

The free trade area around the Pacific rim, or Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) currently includes Chile, New Zealand, Brunei and Singapore – all relatively small economies.

The US, Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Peru are negotiating to join.

And Japan, the world’s third largest economy, has now said it also wants to join the talks, which are likely to take place on the sidelines of the summit.

The announcement was made by the Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, before setting off for the APEC summit in Hawaii.

The question of whether to take part in the talks has split the governing Democratic Party of Japan.

The TPP could transform Japan’s stagnant economy by helping its exporters get more access to the dynamic markets of Asia.

In principle it would eliminate all trade barriers between Japan and the nine other nations involved.

But it would also expose Japanese farmers – up to now protected by some of the highest tariffs in the world – to competition.

Lobby groups have warned agriculture could be ruined and there have been protests in Tokyo.

But the IMF chief, Christine Lagarde, says she welcomed Japan’s decision to enter talks towards an Asia-Pacific free trade deal.

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New Greek PM Says Country Is at ‘Crucial Crossroads’ November 10, 2011

Greece’s newly named caretaker prime minister, Lucas Papademos, says his country is at a “crucial crossroads” and it won’t be easy to fix the huge problems facing the Greek economy.

Thursday, Greece’s feuding political leaders named Papademos, a former vice president of the European Central Bank, to be the country’s interim leader until a national election is held, likely next year. Outgoing Prime Minister George Papandreou handed him the responsibility for carrying out Greece’s hugely unpopular austerity measures demanded by its international creditors in exchange for more money to keep the country from defaulting on its debts.

Stressing stability, unity

Papademos, to be sworn in Friday, said “the course will not be easy.” But he said the country’s continued use of the euro currency is a “guarantee of monetary stability” and that Greeks “must all be optimistic about the final result” if they stay united.

The U.S.-educated economist has never run for elected office and is viewed as a non-partisan personality. Analysts say he is well-connected in European capitals.

His appointment came as the European Union voiced new concern about the continent’s economy. Economic affairs commissioner Olli Rehn said “growth has stalled in Europe” and that there is a risk of a new recession.

Risk of recession

The EU predicted economic growth in the 17-nation eurozone would amount to just five-tenths of one percent next year, plunging from an earlier 1.8 percent projection.

With the Greek selection of a new leader, the focus of the European debt crisis again turned to Italy. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has promised to step down after Parliament passes tough austerity measures, appeared Thursday to endorse the man widely seen as his replacement, leading economist Mario Monti.

Focus on Italy

A former European Union commissioner, Monti could be named to head a new government that hopes to implement Italy’s budget-cutting plan aimed at reducing the country’s $2.6 trillion debt.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it is important for Italy, with Europe’s third largest economy, to quickly push through its austerity measures and settle on its political leadership.

In the meantime, Italy’s borrowing costs have soared this week above 7 percent – higher than the rate that forced Greece, Ireland and Portugal to ask for bailout loans. The EU predicted that Italy’s economy will only grow by one-tenth of a percent in 2012.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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GOP debate in Michigan – as it happened

11.18pm ET: In summary: this was a cosmically awful debate. To talk about winners and losers here makes no sense. Like the Battle of the Somme, any gains were measured in inches.

Except that there was a clear loser: Rick Perry, who botched an answer so badly, when he failed to remember a list of three things, that it stopped being bad and actually turned funny. The Perry record now has too many gaffes and brain freezes, that the only thing he’s running for now is to retain his dignity.

Let’s review the tape, shall we? Unable to remember a major policy plank – the three government agencies he was going to boldly abolish and save many billions of dollars – Perry was reduced to doing an excellent impression of a goldfish tipped out of its tank. Mitt Romney even helpfully chipped in with some suggestions. Oh, the ignominies!

It may be fatal because Perry had already used up his lives with his awful botched attack on Mitt Romney a few debates back. One huge debate flub may be regarded as a misfortune; to make two seems like a campaign’s death knell.

At the burial place of Perry’s campaign, the headstone will read: “Let’s see. I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”

Winners? Only in the sense that Charlie Sheen defines “winning”. Herman Cain got a friendly platform to shift the spotlight off his sexual harassment woes – although his ghastly “Princess Nancy” jibe would have been the talking point of the night if Perry hadn’t won that prize so easily. Mitt Romney escaped unscathed, once again. He rebuffed a couple of attempts to knock him off balance, so in that sense he won.

In an alternative universe, Jon Huntsman won, but it’s clear that alternative universe is a very different place. Back in earth’s harsh reality, Newt Gingrich – running a campaign powered by his own bullshit – is deemed to have had a good night, although God alone knows why.

Well, there’s another debate on Saturday – no, really – so the game continues. I’m taking bets that Perry won’t actually show up.

Summing up tonight’s debate, Nate Silver, New York Times politics guru, tweets:

The 2012 Nobel Prize has been awarded to Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich for discovering that all bubbles are caused by Barney Frank

Yes, and that was the problem with this debate. Asked to discuss hard, very real economic issues, almost all of the candidates – other than Jon Huntsman and, from time to time, Mitt Romney – offered simplistic bromides, political point-scoring, half-assed non-solutions and trivial distractions. The worst offender was Herman Cain, who plainly has no grasp whatsoever of the very basics of economic policies or their timescale.

(I should also exempt Ron Paul from all this, since he moves to the beat of his own drum.)

Good night, and thank you for reading.

10.39pm ET: Larry Sabato issues his report card for the debate tonight:

Mitt: B (untouched but undistinguished)

Newt: B (crowd pleaser but irritating)

Cain: C+ (decent but tainted by frenzy)

Perry: W (withdrawn, returning to Texas)

Other candidates: AU (auditing class)

That sounds about right.

10.33pm ET: Fox News appears to have Rick Perry’s bumble clip on high rotate. As will all cable news stations, in between footage of Joe Paterno.

“I think all of us felt very bad for him,” says Michele Bachmann to Greta Van Susteren. Sympathy from Michele Bachmann? That’s got to hurt.

10.25pm ET: Some actual breaking news: AP reports that the trustees of Penn State University have sacked Joe Paterno and college president Graham Spanier.

10.14pm ET: Speaking after the debate, Rick Perry says:

Speaking of boots, I’m glad I had my boots on tonight because I sure stepped in it out there.

Yep, that’s for sure. There seems to be a note of sympathy for Perry out there. Which is even worse.

10.05pm ET: OK then, Herman Cain turns up on CNBC for the post-match analysis – and is asked about his nasty “Princess Nancy” reference to Nancy Pelosi. Cain has the good sense to say: “That was a statement I probably should not have made.”

9.58pm ET: Right, it’s all over. Thank God. More importantly, here’s the transcript of Rick Perry’s epic fail:

Rick Perry: But the fact of the matter is we better have a plan in place that Americans can get their hands around. And that’s a reason my flat tax is the only one of all of the folks – these good folks on the stage, it balances the budget in 2020. It does the things to the regulatory climate that has to happen.

And I will tell you, it is three agencies of government when I get there that are gone. Commerce, Education, and the – what’s the third one there? Let’s see.

(LAUGHTER)

Ron Paul: You need five.

Perry: Oh, five, OK. So Commerce, Education, and the…

Mitt Romney: EPA?

Perry: EPA, there you go.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

John Harwood: Seriously, is the EPA the one you were talking about?

Perry: No, sir, no, sir. We were talking about the agencies of government – the EPA needs to be rebuilt. There’s no doubt about that.

Harwood: But you can’t, you can’t name the third one?

Perry: The third agency of government I would — I would do away with, Education, the…

Romney: Commerce.

Perry: Commerce and, let’s see. I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.

And, of course, the YouTube clip is here.

9.51pm ET: Oh no. Asked another question, Rick Perry paused – and we all thought: Oh God, not again! But he held it together.

9.49pm ET: Now even Herman Cain is taking the piss out of Jim Cramer, who has been let out of his cage again. To be fair, it’s not hard.

9.48pm ET: Apparently the end is near. Of this debate. But also western civilisation, and certainly the US economy.

9.47pm ET: Jon Huntsman has a go at Mitt Romney for pandering over a trade war with China. He’s right, of course.

“Governor Romney: are you pandering?” wonders John Harwood. “I’ve been in business all my life,” says Mitt. Well, not really, since you’ve been a full-time politician for the last 10 years.

This is such obvious pandering by Mitt that it should be in a zoo trying to mate.

9.42pm ET: Ewen MacAskill wonders about Newt Gingrich’s taking huge fees from US mortgage backers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac:


Now that Newt Gingrich has moved from single digit poll figures around 14% and a third-place slot, maybe he will come under more media scrutiny. Interesting when he was asked about his role with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, whose reckless lending was the catalyst for the slump. Although Gingrich is a critic of government involvement and a champion of cutting regulation, he worked as a consultant for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, taking $300,000 in fees.

Many or all of the consultants were employed to block government regulation. How’s Gingrich square this? He claimed tonight he had advised them to stop handing mortgages to people with poor credit ratings and they had ignored his advice. Anyone around in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac at the time that can corroborate this version?

Yes, it would be helpful to know more. Not that Gingrich has any chance, really, but because he’s a s-h-one-t of the highest order.

9.41pm ET: Herman Cain slips into parody. Asked about the state of California buying hi-tech goods from China and what he would do about it, Cain replies: “I have a bold plan: 9-9-9.”

No, it really is Cain’s answer to everything. He’s a fool.

9.38pm ET: Larry Sabato agrees with my sense of doom over Perry’s meltdown just now:

To my memory, Perry’s forgetfulness is the most devastating moment of any modern primary debate.

Well, at least something came out of this debate, eh?

9.35pm ET: This YouTube clip has the Perry meltdown in full.

9.34pm ET: Ah, now Perry says he was trying to remember that he wanted to abolish the Department of Energy. Ironic cheers from the crowd.

Meanwhile, a lot of talk about student loans. And guess what? The answer from the candidates is the same as to Italy and home owners: suck it, students.

9.32pm ET: I’m searching my memory – which has been diminished by just watching this debate – and I can’t recall anything as devastating as Rick Perry’s self-immolation right then.

We’d have to go right back to Sir Alec Douglas-Home and his fuddled attempt to explain how the economy worked by admitting he used matchsticks.

9.25pm ET: I can’t wait for the transcript of that Rick Perry brain freeze. Until then I’m reminded of that old quote:

“It adds a new terror to life and makes death a long-felt want.”

9.22pm ET: Trending right now on Twitter: Princess Nancy.

9.20pm ET: Oh God, Rick Perry is having to cast around for the names of the three departments and government agencies he says he would abolish as president. He frantically names various ones, can remember two, but the final one eludes him.

Perry finally finishes with: “Oops.”

I think that’s the end of Rick Perry as a presidential contender for 2012. Thanks Rick, it’s been entertaining.

Taxi for Governor Perry.

9.17pm ET: While Rick Santorum is speaking – because, frankly, who cares? – here’s the transcript of the Herman Cain sex question earlier:

Maria Bartiromo: Mr Cain, the American people want jobs, but they also want leadership. They want character in a president. In recent days, we have learned that four different women have accused you of inappropriate behavior. Here we’re focusing on character and on judgment.

(BOOING)

Bartiromo: You’ve been a CEO.

Herman Cain: Yes.

Bartiromo: You know that shareholders are reluctant to hire a CEO where there are character issues. Why should the American people hire a president if they feel there are character issues?

Cain: The American people deserve better than someone being tried in the court of public opinion based on unfounded accusations. That’s…

(APPLAUSE)

Cain: And I value my character and my integrity more than anything else. And for every … one person that comes forward with a false accusation, there are probably … there are thousands who would say none of that sort of activity ever came from Herman Cain.

You’re right. This country’s looking for leadership. And this is why a lot of people, despite what has happened over the last nine days, are still very enthusiastic behind my candidacy. Over the last nine days…

(APPLAUSE)

Cain: Over the last nine days, the voters have voted with their dollars, and they are saying they don’t care about the character assassination. They care about leadership and getting this economy growing and all of the other problems we face.

(APPLAUSE)

John Harwood: Governor Romney, when you were at Bain Capital, you purchased a lot of companies. You could fire the CEO and the management team or you could keep them. Would you keep a CEO – are you persuaded by what Mr Cain has said? Would you keep him on if you bought his company?

(BOOING)

Mitt Romney: Look, look, Herman Cain is the person to respond to these questions. He just did. The people in this room and across the country can make their own assessment.

(APPLAUSE)

9.12pm ET: Another ad break. The wicked Sam Stein of the Huffington Post tweets:

Princess Nancy, I took the liberty of upgrading your hotel room

9.09pm ET: Romney points out that the US spends such a large share of national income on healthcare, more than the rest of the world and wants to keep it down with more “market-based” healthcare. And yet, and yet … all those other countries with lower healthcare spending have far less market-based health provision. Such as Britain’s NHS.

So, let’s draw the opposite conclusion from that than the obvious one, shall we?



Mitt Romney: ‘I know, markets work.’ Photograph: Mark Blinch/Reuters

9.05pm ET: Ha: asked about healthcare, Mitt Romney reels off his experience and says: “I know, markets work.”

Strangely enough, he omits one little, tiny detail in that list: Romneycare, which he instituted as governor of Massachusetts. Where markets didn’t work. Apparently.

But they work everywhere else, eh, Mitt?

9.01pm ET: Now Newt Gingrich is complaining that 30 seconds isn’t long enough to answer detailed policy questions. Windbag. Has he not noticed that’s how these debates work?

“Would you like to try to answer the question?” jibes Maria Bartiromo. And he does. It’s a meaningless shopping list of bad ideas that have no connection except in Newt’s brain.

Larry Sabato, the sage of the University of Virginia, tweets rather cruelly:


“Newt gets big bucks from Freddie, gave them “advice as a historian”. Yeah, I’m sure that’s why he was hired.”

8.58pm ET: Healthcare reform, and the candidates are asked what they will replace “Obamacare” with. And there are some mildly coherent replies – or maybe my brain is melting. Apart from Cain, of course.

Cain just referred to Nancy Pelosi, the then Speaker of the House, as “Princess Nancy”. He really does have a problem with women, doesn’t he?

8.55pm ET: Ewen MacAskill is slowly being driven to hard liquor:


This is the worst debate yet, worse than the Bloomberg one. We are now 45 minutes in, and I haven’t heard anything remotely informative about the candidates’ economic policies.

8.54pm ET: Jon Huntsman is playing the adult, pointing out that for people who have just lost their jobs, blathering on about long-term reform is no use.

Now Huntsman is bashing Goldman Sachs. Commie.

8.52pm ET: Ah, Herman Cain is asked about the housing market and the answer is … 9-9-9.

But what about the three years it will take to reform the tax code first? Do nothing? Yes, says Cain.

8.50pm ET: Oh, now Newt Gingrich is being asked why his company took $200,000 from Fannie Mae in 2006. He says he predicted everything and that’s what he told them and they ignored him. Really? How convenient.



Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman: BFFs? Photograph: Jeff Kowalsky/EPA

8.49pm ET: Rick Perry doesn’t appear to subscribe to the “tough luck home owners” policy of all the other candidates.

8.47pm ET: Now the CNBC economics wonk is asking a sensible question, pointing out that jobs have been added and yet the housing market keeps falling.

“Now exactly what would you do instead?” says Romney.

“I’m asking you,” says Mr Wonk.

Mitt falls back on flannel, blaming US housing market regulators. Bzzt.

8.46pm ET: Haha, Newt Gingrich just called Michele Bachmann “Congressman Bachmann”.

Yes, it’s come to this, I’m afraid.

The question is the housing market, and what to do about it. Sadly, all the candidates have nothing to say about the housing market – they think it’s a symptom of the poor economy rather than being a cause. This is a fundamental error.

Anyway, in summary: like Italy, the housing market can go suck it.

8.42pm ET: Ad break. Yes, this is the Worst. Debate. Ever. The questions are, to be frank, tediously limited. I think what CNBC is trying to do is show that these guys know nothing about economics, or at least catch them out, but the result is blather rather than gotcha.

Ewen MacAskill says Herman Cain isn’t the force he was in previous debates:


The sexual harassment row is having an impact on Cain – he’s not as ebullient as in previous debates. Even talking about 9-9-9 he sounds subdued. Hardly surprising given the pounding he has taken in the last 11 days.

8.40pm ET: Ha ha. Ron Paul bangs on about the money supply: M1, in fact – haven’t heard that one for a while (it’s a narrow measure of money supply) – and how it is rising.

“That means inflation!” says Ron.

Inflation? In this economy?

8.38pm ET: Asked what’s to stop his 9-9-9 tax plan turning into 19-19-19, Cain delivers a magnificent non-sequitur:

“Tax codes don’t raise taxes. Politicians do.”

8.36pm ET: Cain is asked about the regressive nature of his 9-9-9 tax plan. Naturally, he ignores it and defends the fairness of his tax plan by giving a dictionary definition of “fair”. Yes, that will do it.

8.34pm ET: My Guardian colleague Ewen MacAskill is watching, and says that the moderators dropped the ball in quizzing Herman Cain:


Cowardice on the part of the journalists on the debate panel. Having raised the sexual harassment issues with Cain, they backed off after being booed by the audience. Having raised it, they should have seen it through, putting it to at least a few of the candidates.

8.31pm ET: Jim Cramer is asking some nutty question about whether companies should make profits or create jobs. These are Republican party candidates; they’re obviously going to say “both”.

Newt Gingrich blames the media for the way it reports on the economy – and Maria Bartiromo comes back at him, asking for an example. Newt goes with some snide response about that being a position dressed up as a question. What?

When he finally answers it’s some nonsense about reporters not asking Occupy Wall Street protesters who would pay for Zucotti Park if there were no companies making profits. No, I have no idea either.

Newt Gingrich is only called a thinker by those with a lisp.

8.27pm: I have to say, that was a lame attempt to ask a question about Cain’s sexual harassment problems, by dressing it up as an “economic” question. Meh.

8.25pm ET: Back to Cain … oh, here we go, it’s the sexual harassment question. Hey, the audience is booing, while Maria Bartiromo asks about “character issues” in a chief executive – and a president.

Herman Cain says: “There are thousands that would say that none of that came from Herman Cain.”

Cain’s going full bore for the “character assasination” defence, and the crowd seems to like it.

More boos! When Mitt Romney is asked if he would keep on Cain as a CEO given his character problems. Romney brushes it off.

There’s a heckler – I can’t hear what he said but it gets a big laugh from the crowd.

8.20pm ET: Hey, Michele Bachmann is still in the race. Well, she’s on stage, anyway, which isn’t really the same thing, I guess.

The pattern here is that none of the candidates are actually answering any of the pointed economic questions they are being asked. They may as well be wearing iPods. In fact I think Rick Perry is.

8.18pm ET: Now it’s Newt Gingrich, who once again launches into his own personal warfare with the Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke – and says he should be fired. Which he can’t be, under law. Good one, Newt.

8.17pm ET: Romney is being pushed about his history of dodgy, ever-shifting statements. But Mitt says he’s a pretty straight sort of guy. So that’s ok.

Now Rick Perry – his first question here – is asked a sly question aimed at Romney, which he ignores and instead answers the question that was in his head. It ends with:

“If you are too big to fail, you are too big.”

8.14pm ET: Mitt Romney is now having his weasel words about not backing the auto industry in Michigan quoted back to him. But Mitt is ready, and somehow blames emissions legislation that helped foreign carmakers. That’s hardly the reason why the US auto industry collapsed under its own weight.

Mitt mentions his family history here – but doesn’t mention that his father was head of a now defunct US carmaker American Motors Corporation.

8.13pm ET: Oh God, Jim Cramer really is taking part as a moderator, and is ranting away about Italy being too big to fail. Seriously, whose bright idea was it to let Jim Cramer get in on this? He’s a clown.

Despite Cramer. Jon Huntsman actually gives a sensible reply about the size of banks being the problem. Very un-Republican.

8.10pm ET: Maria Bartiromo asks Mitt Romney if the US will keep funding the IMF, which would bail out Italy. Mitt chunters on for a bit, and sort of says yes but no but no but no bailouts.

8.07pm ET: First question to Herman Cain – is it sex? No, it’s the stock market, and Italy. What will Herman Cain do to save Italy, and so on?

Two things says Herman. One is meaningless fluff about growing the US economy. The other is meaningless fluff about the dollar.

Allow Italy to fail, Cain is asked? “There’s not a lot the United States can do for Italy right now, because there’s not a lot that we can do to save them right now.”

Suck on that, Italy, says Herman Cain.

8.04pm ET: Here we go, then: live from the campus of a university somewhere in Michigan – Rochester? Isn’t that in New York state? That’s another Rochester. Anyway, Rochester, Michigan, as close to Detroit as CNBC felt safe enough to come.

And the candidates are being introduced. They are there, and managing to stay standing up. The rules: no kicking, no gouging – unless they have to.

8.00pm ET: Back to the CNBC screen: with the stock market ticker and news scrolling along on the bottom, and the Nikkei and oil prices running along the top, watching this debate is akin to peering at your television through your letterbox.

As they say on Twitter: #cnbcfail

7.59pm ET: Did you know that, including tonight, there are four – four! – Republican debates in the next 13 days?

At this rate, the Nick Junior kids cartoon channel will be hosting one.

7.56pm ET: Former White House speech writer Jon Lovett tweets:


“I’m worried that the people who normally watch CNBC will catch tonight’s GOP debate and it’ll spook the markets.”

7.52pm ET: Lord, Rick Santelli and Jim Cramer are going to be taking part in this debate? It’s shaping up to be The Worst Debate Ever. Worse that that CNN one where they asked questions via robots.

Santelli is the guy who supposedly set off the Tea Party with his televised rant. And Jim Cramer? Well.

7.42pm ET: I’d like to welcome Daisy Benson, the leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Reading borough council, to this live blog.

She just followed me on Twitter so I figured it would be nice to say hello. Hi Daisy!

7.38pm ET: CNN’s Peter Hamby tweets this true fact:

What is Newt Gingrich doing right now before the debate? Watching ‘Bridesmaids.’ No joke.

OK, it’s a good movie. And frankly, not knowing tedious facts is hardly Newt Gingrich’s weakness. If anything, knowing too many facts is his problem. Or knowing when to shut his mouth re: said facts.

7.34pm ET: Seriously, CNBC, please drop that stupid stock market ticker running across the bottom of the screen. For the love of the TV Gods.

7.32pm ET: This debate is on CNBC, a cable news channel that is usually hyperactively covering share prices (even more so in recent weeks, as you can imagine).

The presenter just said, with a straight face: “The housing market will be a key topic tonight…” Yes, that’s right, just after the discussion on the awesomeness of unicorns and rainbows.

7.27pm ET: Here’s some late breaking news, and another huge setback for Herman Cain:

Amid a storm of allegations levied against Herman Cain, the American Mustache Institute today announced it had rescinded its endorsement for his presidential candidacy.

The institute is concerned about “allegations came to light that Cain’s mustache is not real, but actually a theater quality upper lip garment”.

This is precisely what Herman Cain does not need right now.

7.05pm ET: One thing you may have noticed from Herman Cain’s recent appearances is that Herman Cain refers to Herman Cain in the third person. A lot.

Talking Points Memo have mashed up a tiny sliver of Herman Cain on
Herman Cain
.

7pm ET: Good evening and welcome to live blogging of the – what is this, 10th? – Republican presidential candidates’ debate. Like a tired, long-running sitcom, the same cast of characters is back: unloved patriarch Mitt Romney, weird uncle Ron Paul, angry neighbour Rick Santorum, local blowhard Newt Gingrich and … Herman Cain.

Yes, tonight’s debate is the first since Cain’s insurgent campaign raced to the top of the opinion polls and then ran into a brick wall of serial sexual misconduct allegations, as first revealed by Politico newspaper and subsequently confirmed by two women.

Cain has tried ignoring, ridiculing and avoiding the charges, offering a twisting set of responses that merely made matters worse. Finally, on Tuesday, Cain held a press conference to tackle the subject – but ended up satisfying no-one with his blank denials and memory loss.

Will the allegations against Cain come up tonight? In some ways Cain is on friendly territory, on stage with seven other Republican contenders. But it seems hard to imagine that the subject won’t be raised, especially as even Romney – who is neck and neck with Cain in the polls – has called the allegations “serious” and “disturbing”.

It may be that one of the lesser candidates – Michele Bachmann? Santorum? Jon Huntsman? – will seize the chance to raise the issue, if they can do so in way that doesn’t alienate the approximately 60% of Republicans who have told pollsters they don’t believe the allegations.

Santorum, a social conservative with subterranean poll ratings, has a particular incentive to throw bombs at Cain and maybe get some airtime from a national media that has long ago written him off.

There are three other themes to look for:

The inevitable Mitt Romney

Romney remains atop the polls – but many Republicans remain unconvinced that he should be their party’s standard bearer because of his dodgy past of repeatedly backflipping on his political positions.

But so far, Romney has seemed Teflon-coated: nothing sticks. And the attention on Herman Cain’s troubles has once again taken the heat off him. Will that change tonight? And will Rick Perry continue his assault on Romney, as he did in the last debate two weeks ago?

The economy, stupid

The debate is being held in Michigan, near to the jobs wasteland of Detroit and the struggling car industry, saved in part thanks to a bailout of GM. Most of the candidates are opposed to the bailouts – especially Romney – despite their apparent success. Can the candidates offer more than their nostrums of endless tax cuts, and Cain’s hugely regressive 9-9-9 plan?

Newtmentum!

With the stumbles of Herman Cain and the tailspin of Texas governor Rick Perry, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is next in line as the next “Not Romney” candidate for the more conservative Republicans. But apart from loving the sound of his own voice, Gingrich comes with more baggage than a left-luggage depot.

The debate itself starts at 8pm ET, and is being carried live on CNBC.

And of course you can leave your own witty remarks in the comments below. Obviously if any of them are funny then I will steal them.

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