European leaders meeting in Brussels for a summit on banking rules got some bad news this morning. The Standard and Poor's credit rating agency announced that it is stripping the entire European Union of its AAA rating. The EU has been bailing out some of weaker countries and the downgrade is thought to be a comment on the donor countries' willingness to keep paying.
The timing of the announcement from S&P was particularly lousy for EU leaders, coming just a few hours after they trumpeted their success in stitching together a new deal on what to do with failing banks.
S&P's downgrade of the EU from AAA to AA+ is a reaction to the massive economic bailouts of weaker countries in the union. The ratings agency is concerned about the donor nations' willingness to continue feeding the 566 billion euro debt -- 80 percent of which went to Ireland and Portugal alone. S&P is especially alarmed because the level of debt is higher now than it was three years ago.
Parents can agonize this time of year about what to give their kids’ teachers.
“Because you don’t know what everyone else is giving,” says Kim Egan, a mother of two in Santa Monica, Calif. “You don’t want to under-give. You don’t want to over-give.”
This year Egan opted to pool her money with other parents. She gave $50 for each of her two kids. Her daughter is also making a doll to give. Pretty modest next to some gifts reported in Anchorage, Alaska.
“There are some that are relatively outrageous,” says Todd Hess, chief human resources officer at Anchorage School District. “From plane tickets to Hawaii, to a fur coat, to diamond jewelry.”
Perks like that are rare, says Hess, but the district is mulling a ban on gifts worth more than $50. Thursday night the school board in Arlington County, Va., voted to limit gifts to employees to $100 per family, per year.
At Boulder Valley Schools in Colorado, the cap is $25 per gift. Chief financial officer Leslie Stafford says that’s to avoid any appearance of a bribe.
“Possibly a parent wanting to influence a student’s grade,” she says. “By keeping it small, we just get rid of any of those questions.”
Such policies also protect kids and parents who can’t afford a big gift from feeling awkward about it. For parents who really want to give more, Stafford suggests donating books to the school library.
Former teacher Clare Golding, now a stay-at-home parent of two in Raleigh, N.C., suggests giving school supplies.
“Teachers spend so much of their own money on their classroom,” she says.
One thing she has stopped recommending -- Starbucks gift cards.
“Everybody does it,” she says, “and I have had teacher friends of mine go, ‘I couldn’t drink all this coffee in a year if I tried.’”
After the Obama administration announced that Americans who recently had their health insurance canceled can buy "catastrophic policies," the insurance industry said the change will cause more confusion.
Hollywood doesn’t want free trade to mean free, illegal downloads of movies. Or bootleg sales. Anissa Brennan, vice president for International Affairs and Trade Policy at the Motion Picture Association of America, wants the treaty to follow U.S. law, which doesn’t allow movie goers to film what’s on the screen, then sell illegal copies.
She explains, “If you go into a theater and you record a film without the permission of the theater owner, that is a criminal act.”
Brennan also wants the trade deal to extend copyrights to the life of the author plus 70 years. Bill Watson is a trade policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, who advocates free trade. He says U.S. negotiators have taken Hollywood’s position, which isn’t very popular.
"To the extent that other countries are unwilling to take on these obligations, it threatens the viability of the agreement," he says
Watson doesn’t think the movie protections the U.S. is pushing for will derail the trade negotiations. But he says it’s putting stress on a very fragile deal.