Going into this morning, expectations for economic growth in the second quarter — April, May, and June of this year — were quite poor, making the actual GDP report a little more encouraging.
The U.S. economy grew at a 1.7% annual rate in the second quarter, buoyed by a solid gain in consumer spending and a sharp increase in business investment, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected growth to total 1.0%.
To be sure, 1.7% GDP growth is not, by any fair measure, good news. It tells us the economy is growing, but the recovery is at best sluggish. But given the news we were expecting, 1.7% is a relatively pleasant surprise, especially since the previous quarter’s growth was revised down to 1.1%.
Bloomberg: Economy in U.S. Expands More Than Forecast on Inventories
The economy in the U.S. grew more than projected in the second quarter, reflecting an unexpected pickup in inventory building as consumer spending cooled. Growth in the previous three months was revised down.
Gross domestic product, the value of all goods and services produced, rose at a 1.7 percent annualized rate, after a 1.1 percent gain the prior quarter, Commerce Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 85 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 1 percent advance for last quarter. Consumer spending, the biggest part of the economy, climbed 1.8 percent after increasing 2.3 percent.
Job gains and rising home prices are shoring up Americans’ confidence and lifting automobile sales and production, making it likely the U.S. will pick up once government spending cuts and tax increases pose less of a restraint. The report also showed inflation is falling further below the Federal Reserve’s goal….
Steve Benen: Reality gets in the way of far-right shutdown scheme
As a large group of Republicans push for a government shutdown over the Affordable Care Act, Norm Ornstein offered some compelling context. “You could say it’s a do-nothing Congress but that doesn’t do justice to it,” he said. “These guys are doing something, which is to destroy the economic fabric of the country by holding the functions of government hostage to a non-negotiable demand to eliminate Obamacare.”
That’s plainly true, though Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), arguably the main ringleader of the scheme, apparently believes destroying the economic fabric of the country by holding the functions of government hostage to a non-negotiable demand to eliminate Obamacare is a fine idea. As Sarah Kliff reported, however, there is a flaw in the right-wing premise…..
Steve Benen: ATF finally poised to move forward with real leadership
Ask conservative opponents of gun reforms what they’d like to see from law enforcement, and you’ll probably get a predictable answer: we should enforce the gun laws we already have, not approve new ones. For the last several years, however, that’s been easier said than done.
Enforcement of existing gun laws generally falls under the purview of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which has lacked a permanent, Senate-confirmed leader for the last seven years, thanks to opposition from Republicans and the National Rifle Association, both of which have reflexively balked at the very idea of an ATF chief.
With this in mind, we may be poised for a breakthrough this week….
ThinkProgress: Texas Lawmakers Are Too Busy Focusing On Abortion Restrictions To Get Anything Else Done
Just over an hour after Texas legislators concluded their second special session — an extra lawmaking session they used to enact sweeping abortion restrictions — Gov. Rick Perry (R) called them back for a third one. An outstanding highway funding bill is the only item on the agenda. “When it comes to transportation, the stakes facing our state could not be higher,” the governor noted in a statement.
Perry cited that same transportation measure as one of the reasons he believed it was necessary to call the first special legislative session at the beginning of June. But instead of focusing on getting that done, the governor demonstrated a different set of priorities — adding a slew of anti-abortion provisions that were unable to advance during the state’s regular session to the docket.
Bob Cesca: Bradley Manning Lives in a Nation of Laws, and, Hero or Not, He Broke 16 of Those Laws
While fleeing from the law in Hong Kong, Edward Snowden encouraged a return to “the rule of law rather than men.” In spite of his politically incorrect usage of “men” instead of “men and women,” he’s right. Generally speaking, individual citizens shouldn’t be held above the law — least of all a soldier named Pfc. Bradley Manning who stole 720,000 classified documents and handed them over to be be indiscriminately posted for public consumption by Julian Assange’s Wikileaks.
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden shake hands in the Oval Office following a phone call with House Speaker John Boehner securing a bipartisan deal to reduce the nation’s deficit and avoid default, Sunday, July 31, 2011. (Photo by Pete Souza)
NYT: Obama Says Income Gap Is Fraying U.S. Social Fabric
In a week when he tried to focus attention on the struggles of the middle class, President Obama said in an interview that he was worried that years of widening income inequality and the lingering effects of the financial crisis had frayed the country’s social fabric and undermined Americans’ belief in opportunity.
“If the economy is growing, everybody feels invested,” President Obama said in an interview last week in Galesburg, Ill. “Everybody feels as if we’re rolling in the same direction.”
Upward mobility, Mr. Obama said in a 40-minute interview with The New York Times, “was part and parcel of who we were as Americans.”
“And that’s what’s been eroding over the last 20, 30 years, well before the financial crisis,” he added.
“If we don’t do anything, then growth will be slower than it should be. Unemployment will not go down as fast as it should. Income inequality will continue to rise,” he said. “That’s not a future that we should accept.”….
Steve Benen: Jobless claims show unexpected improvement
Lately, just about all of the news on initial unemployment claims has been good, and the new figures out this morning were unexpectedly encouraging.
…. In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it’s considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape, and when the number drops below 370,000, it suggests jobs are being created rather quickly. We’ve been below the 370,000 threshold 23 of the last 26 weeks, and below 350,000 in 7 of the last 10 weeks.
NY Post: In a stunning move, the Obama Administration has thrust itself into the middle of the explosive federal stop-and-frisk trial and is taking sides against the NYPD, raising the odds of a outside monitor being appointed to oversee the controversial crime-fighting program.
…. The source said that Attorney General Eric Holder’s office notified the city that it intends to file briefs in support of claims by the Center for Constitutional Rights that cops are stopping suspects on the basis of race.
Legal Times: When President Barack Obama nominated two women to a key appeals court last week, he was adding to his lead when it comes to adding women to the federal bench, according to a new study.
Obama has successfully appointed a greater percentage of women to federal judgeships than any other president in American history …. The study doesn’t include the two recent nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit—Patricia Millett and Cornelia Pillard. (Neither pick has been confirmed.)
Forty-two percent of Obama’s successful nominations have been women, according to the study. That’s well above the rates of President George W. Bush (22 percent) and President Bill Clinton (29 percent), the study found. President Obama is the first president to appoint two women to the Supreme Court.
“This administration deserves credit for working to create a federal judiciary that more closely reflects the richness and diversity of the American people,” said AFJ President Nan Aron.
NYT: Six months after the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., and with no major gun legislation on the horizon in Congress, the White House is quietly moving forward on an executive package of gun safety measures.
The package, which includes 23 executive actions announced by President Obama earlier this year, is intended to bolster the nation’s database used for background checks and make it harder for criminals and people with mental illnesses to get guns.
Among other things, the executive orders relax health care privacy regulations that some state executives say prevent them from putting the names of those Americans with mental health records into the database. The orders also give states more money to help them add data to the system and compel federal agencies to share more mental health data on workers. The goal is to add thousands of new people into the database — those with a history of mental illness, for example — who would not legally be allowed to buy a gun under current law.
Kevin Drum: …. there’s a little piece of me that admires such naked chutzpah. Issa is basically saying that it’s OK to release little pieces of the interviews that are ripped out of context to create a false impression of White House involvement, but it would be reckless to release full transcripts that pretty clearly shows the White House had nothing to do with any of this.
Bill Scher (The Week): Why conservatives can’t whitewater Obama – The Republican Noise Machine is falling on deaf ears
Twenty years ago, conservative media mavens seemed able to turn any minor flap into scandal gold …. yet today, no matter how loud conservatives scream “Benghazi,” “Solyndra,” “Fast and Furious” and even “Intim-O-Gate” (Glenn Beck’s failed attempt to brand the IRS and leak investigation controversies), President Obama glides past. His poll numbers remain relatively stable.
There is not really a “what did the president know” drumbeat, and no suggestion he warrants independent investigation. Calls for Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation died down following his meeting with Washington media bureau chiefs. Benghazi lightning rod Susan Rice just got a promotion, and her Republican antagonists are pledging cooperation.
What happened to the Republican Noise Machine? Here are three reasons it’s sputtering….
Mediaite: …. Stephen Colbert sent up the NSA’s expansive surveillance programs, saying, “Millions of Americans whose privacy has been invaded were shocked to learn that anything on the internet was ever private.”
“Now, I have to admit, at first I found this program to be a shocking breach of the public trust,” Colbert said of PRISM. “The intimate details I share from my Gmail account are no business of big government. They are for one purpose only: so I can get targeted ads for boner pills.”
“But then I learned that PRISM targets only foreigners!” Colbert put up a photo of the Statue of Liberty. “Evidently that torch of freedom is only for Americans. For the rest of the world, she’s holding a boom mic.”
Washington Post: The CIA’s deputy director plans to retire and will be replaced by White House lawyer and agency outsider Avril D. Haines, Director John O. Brennan said Wednesday.
Haines, who will succeed career officer Michael Morell on Aug. 9, has served for three years as President Obama’s deputy counsel in charge of national security issues and as legal adviser to the National Security Council. Although she has never worked inside the intelligence agency, “she knows more about covert action than anyone in the U.S. government outside of the CIA,” Brennan said in his first interview since becoming CIA director in March.
Steve Benen: ….. Wisconsin Republicans are poised to approve a rather remarkable piece of legislation. The state Senate, led by an enraged Senate President Mike Ellis, pushed through an anti-abortion measure that would, among other things, require women in Wisconsin to have an ultrasound before terminating an unwanted pregnancy….
…. It is a profound example of big government run amok: the bill Scott Walker intends to sign puts politics between people and their doctors, on purpose, requiring invasive medical procedures to satisfy the agenda of a right-wing culture war.
…. This is, of course, exactly the kind of right-wing agenda voters rejected in 2012, when Republicans were slammed for having launched a “war on women,” giving Democrats a crucial gender-gap advantage.
Greg Sargent: House GOP stomps all over Republican rebranding
Consider what the House GOP is up to right now. House Republicans recently passed an immigration amendment, pushed by anti-reform diehard Steve King, that would effectively mandate the deportation of the “DREAMers” who were taken to the U.S. as children. House Republicans are planning a vote next week on a measure that would ban abortions after 20 weeks, after defeating amendments that would exempt cases of rape or incest. And yesterday, House Republicans approved a version of the 2012 National Defense Reauthorization Act that contains what The Advocate calls “three controversial, antigay amendments, one of which is aimed at delaying repeal implementation of don’t ask, don’t tell.”
ThinkProgress: Connecticut is on the cusp of enacting a major new law to protect people who are homeless from discrimination.
Last week, Connecticut lawmakers passed the “Homeless Person’s Bill Of Rights” at the literal 11th hour — 11:30pm on June 5th, one half hour before the legislative session ended. The bill, SB 896, a landmark piece of legislation to protect homeless individuals’ rights, adds homeless people as a protected class who can’t be discriminated against in employment, housing, or public accommodations. It also includes protections for homeless people to move freely in public spaces, such as parks and sidewalks, without being singled out for harassment by law enforcement officers.
TPM: A survey released Wednesday by a Republican-aligned pollster found Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) earning the support of nearly half of voters and claiming a decisive 12-point edge in the Massachusetts special U.S. Senate election.
The automated survey from Harper Polling showed Markey with the support of 49 percent of Massachusetts voters, while Republican businessman Gabriel Gomez trailed with 37 percent support. Harper launched in December with the intention to rival Democratic-leaning outlets such as Public Policy Polling that have long owned the automated poll market.
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama present a birthday cake to Assistant Usher Reggie Dickson following a Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony and dinner, June 13, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)