Monthly Archives: December 2012

What’s Up: December 17, 2012?

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· U.S. Troops Are Reported Back in Iraq Over Syrian Crisis

More than 3,000 U.S. military personnel have secretly returned to Iraq via Kuwait and 17,000 more are on their way in response to the civil war in Syria that has spilled over into northern Iraq, according to a report published Monday by Iran’s Press TV. [Update: On December 14, U.S. Central Command spokesman Lt. Col. T.G. Taylor said in an email to The New American, “All reports of 3,000 troops returning to Iraq are completely false.”]

The news follows by four days a report from the Russian news service RT that the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower has joined the USS Iwo Jima off the coast of Syria. Both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week issued stern warnings to Syria about unspecified but serious “consequences” that would follow if government forces in Syria were to use chemical weapons against insurgents fighting to overthrow the government led by President Bashar al-Assad. The warnings came after reports that intelligence sources have reported signs of activity where the Assad regime is believed to have chemical weapons stored. At the same time, U.S. officials have expressed concern over the possibility that Jihadist elements among the rebel forces might capture those same weapons. Israel is worried — along with Western nations — that the militant Islamic group Hezbollah, an ally of Iran and enemy of Israel, might be among the rebels likely to get hold of and use chemical weapons.

The United States and other nations wanting to help the Syrian rebels in their efforts to topple the Assad regime are also concerned about Nusra Front, the one Syrian rebel group with the explicit “stamp of approval from al Qaeda,” according to a New York Times report that identified the group as “a direct offshoot of Al Qaeda in Iraq.” A veteran of the al-Qaeda force in Iraq, who said he has led the Nusra Front’s efforts in Syria, is quoted in the Times as saying: “This is just a simple way of returning the favor to our Syrian brothers that fought with us on the lands of Iraq.”

Faisal al-Maqdad, Syria’s deputy foreign minister, denied last week that his government has chemical weapons and called the warnings a “pretext for invasion” of Syria by Western nations. “Syria stresses again, for the tenth, the hundredth time, that if we had such weapons, they would not be used against its people. We would not commit suicide,” Maqdad, said in apparent recognition of the retaliation by outside forces that the use of such weapons would bring.

Without citing specific numbers of troops on the U.S. ships off the Syrian coast, RT reported that the Eisenhower is equipped to carry eight fighter-bombers and 8,000 men, while the Iwo Jima is designed to carry 2,500 U.S. Marines. RT last week also quoted an Australian news report of U.S. covert forces either in or very near Syria, ready to strike. “We have (US) special operations forces at the right posture, they don’t have to be sent,” an unnamed U.S. official told The Australian.

Germany’s cabinet, meanwhile, has approved stationing Patriot anti-missile batteries on Turkey’s border with Syria, a step requiring deployment of NATO troops and arousing fears by the Assad regime that the move is a prelude to an imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria to protect the rebels from aerial bombardment by government forces.

There has been no United Nations resolution authorizing the establishment of either a no-fly zone or of U.S. ground forces. More importantly for the United States, there has been no authorization from Congress, as the Constitution requires, for the Obama administration to intervene militarily in the Syrian conflict. There is, however, a long line of precedents of presidents waging war without congressional approval, including the aerial campaign ordered by President Obama in 2011 in a “humanitarian intervention” to save the rebel forces that toppled the Moammar Gadhafi regime in Libya. Anti-Western, militant Islamic groups involved in the fighting against Gadhafi’s forces later participated in the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens. Story Continued:

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· Pelosi Skips Town Amid ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Talks – Attends birthday party and funeral.

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A day after complaining that the “fiscal cliff” negotiations are “getting boring,” Nancy Pelosi was spotted yesterday afternoon skipping town.

She was comfortably situated in first class on United Airlines flight 1460, which was scheduled to leave Dulles Airport at 2:53 p.m. and arrive in San Francisco 5:57 p.m. A list on United’s website of those who were on the upgrade standby list reveals that PEL, N. (presumably, Nancy Pelosi) was upgraded to seat 4F, a window seat in first class.

Pelosi represents California’s 8th Congressional District, which covers mainly San Francisco.

“She went home for a funeral of a friend who passed away this week,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill confirms. “Services are this morning.”

Pelosi’s office would not reveal which friend of Pelosi’s had passed away, and criticized this reporter as being in “poor taste to ask about what funeral she is attending.”

Not to worry, Hammill insists, Pelosi will still be able to help work out the “fiscal cliff” negotiations. “Just as Speaker Boehner’s spokesman has pointed out with respect to Ohio, California has many airports and cell phone service,” writes Hammill in an email.

House speaker John Boehner is returning to his home state of Ohio this weekend, amid “fiscal cliff” negotiations.

Somebody who spotted Pelosi says that she was overheard talking about getting back to San Francisco for “John’s birthday.” The birthday party, according to this person, was supposed to be last night.

Pelosi’s office would not confirm this detail — or say who John is. Story Continued:

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· After Jesse Jackson Jr. quit, Sandi changed campaign reports

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Five days after Jesse Jackson Jr. resigned from Congress, his wife, Ald. Sandi Jackson, filed a series of amendments to her ward committee’s campaign fund, revealing dozens of previously undisclosed transactions that went back three years. That includes at least $13,000 in previously undisclosed transfers from her husband’s congressional account into her ward organization account, a Sun-Times review of campaign records show.

Among the undisclosed transactions shown in the amended reports were monthly transfers of $1,250 to his wife’s 7th Ward Independent Political Organization — or SWIPO. In a federal disclosure, Rep. Jackson’s campaign fund indicates a $1,250 payment to SWIPO is for rent — he and his wife share campaign office space on Chicago’s South Side. However, the 7th Ward disclosure did not list the purpose of the $1,250 transfers.

Jesse Jackson Jr. resigned on Nov. 22, citing a federal probe and an ongoing battle with health issues. The Sun-Times first reported in October that federal authorities were investigating Jackson’s finances. The couple’s finances have been under intense scrutiny since at least before June of this year.

In all, Sandi Jackson’s ward organization filed eight amended reports, dating back to 2009.

Some of the corrected reports now indicate negative balances — something that an official with the Illinois State Board of Elections said could result in a review.

In the second quarter of 2011, for instance, the committee originally filed a report showing nearly $12,000 cash on hand. The amended report showed the committee was actually $7,000 under water. It also did not originally disclose $3,750 in transfers from Jesse Jackson Jr.’s congressional fund.

Typically, negative balances call for follow-up from the board of elections.

“It’s something that we would potentially put an inquiry out to the political committee to see what the circumstances were behind this,” said Andy Nauman, deputy director of the division of campaign disclosure with the State Board of Elections.

A notation on some of the reports blames computer and staff issues.

“To Whom It May Concern, Per our recent conversations, I am amending this file to reflect corrections made to this report reflecting contributions and disbursements that were not included in the original report due to staff transitions and computer errors,” the filings from the 7th Ward committee indicate.

While filing corrections to campaign reports isn’t uncommon, the number of corrections, the extent of initially undisclosed information and the length of time taken to correct the errors indicates: “recurring accounting lapses,” said David Morrison, Deputy Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

Morrison said usually an amended report is for one or two reporting periods, errors are caught relatively quickly. “It’s clarifying a street address … or a finger slip,” he said. “The problems are far more serious than they just had software issues. These are substantially new reports,” Morrison said. “There’s more going on here than I think they’ve acknowledged.”

A message left with Sandi Jackson’s committee was not returned. Neither a spokesman nor an attorney for the Jacksons could be reached for comment on Thursday. Story Continued:

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· Transgender player attains college basketball first

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The women’s basketball team at Mission College expected the bleachers to be full and the hecklers ready when its newest player made her home court debut.

In the days leading up to the game, people had plenty to say about 6-foot-6-inch, 220-pound Gabrielle Ludwig, who joined the Lady Saints as a mid-season walk-on and became, according to advocates, the first transsexual to play college hoops as both a man and a woman.

Coach Corey Cafferata worried the outside noise was getting to his players, particularly the 50-year-old Ludwig.

A pair of ESPN radio hosts had laughed at her looks, referring to her as “it.” And online threats and anonymous calls prompted the two-year college to assign the Navy veteran of Operation Desert Storm a safer parking space next to the gym and two police guards.

Last week, Ludwig gathered her 10 teammates at practice and offered to quit. This was their time to shine, she told the group of 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds. She didn’t want to be a distraction for the team. The other women said if Ludwig, whom they nicknamed “Big Sexy” and “Princess,” didn’t play, they wouldn’t either.

Didn’t she know she was the glue holding the team together? Story Continued:

· Strip Search Of 10-Year-Old Prompts Complaint Against Elementary School

Clinton, N.C. (CBS CHARLOTTE) – The parents of a 10-year old Union elementary school student have filed a complaint against the school for strip-searching their son to find an allegedly stolen $20 bill.

In a complaint filed against assistant principal Teresa Holmes on Dec. 6, the family of Clinton, N.C., fifth-grader Justin Cox allege their son was ordered to remove his socks, shoes, pants and shirt so the principal could conduct a manual search for a $20 bill that was inevitably found in the cafeteria.

Holmes defended her actions saying that several other students and a few other faculty members told her the money was missing and they had seen the fifth-grader dive below the table for it. The court filing states that Holmes told the boy “he left her no choice and that she had to search him,” when the boy pulled out his pockets and didn’t produce the allegedly stolen money.

She then told the boy that she was “within her legal rights to do so.”

The court documents state that Justin went under his lunch table to retrieve money dropped by a passing female student. After returning the found money to the girl, Holmes – who was in the cafeteria during the commotion – was told that there was still $20 missing and Justin told her he did not have it.

When Justin was ordered to her office with a custodian witness, Holmes allegedly put her fingers inside the waistband of his undershorts, and ran her fingers on his bare torso.

She told the 10-year old that she had the authority to search him “because teachers and other students thought Justin had the money.”

However, another teacher came into the office at the same time and said that the money had “miraculously” been found on the floor of the cafeteria.

Holmes defended her actions after the fact, telling WRAL-TV, “Any staff member who has ever worked with me knows that I care for my students and that even when I have to discipline them, I love them.”

Holmes hugged the boy and apologized, but Justin’s mother says this is not enough.

“I was furious,” said Clarinda Cox, Justin’s mother.

“If I felt he needed to be searched, I would have brought him into the bathroom,” she said Monday.

“You could have had a witness in the bathroom with me. I would have searched my son.”

Cox told WRAL that, with or without an apology, her son was violated.

“She came up to him and rubbed her fingers around inside of his underwear,” Cox said. “If that isn’t excessively intrusive, I don’t know what is.”

The December court complaint against Holmes states that Justin was deprived of his constitutional rights barring unreasonable search and seizure. Story Continued:

· Tom Monaghan sues feds over new health care law

The founder of Domino’s Pizza is suing the federal government over mandatory contraception coverage in the new health care law.

Tom Monaghan, a devout Roman Catholic, says contraception is not health care and instead is a “gravely immoral” practice. He’s a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed Friday in federal court, along with his Domino’s Farms, which runs an office park near Ann Arbor.

Monaghan offers health insurance that excludes contraception and abortion for employees. The new law requires employers to offer insurance that includes contraception coverage or risk fines. Monaghan says the law violates his constitutional rights, and he’s asking a judge to strike down the mandate.

The government says the contraception mandate benefits women and their role in society. There are similar lawsuits pending across the country. Story Continued:

· Obama administration, Congress quietly let school security funds lapse

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Beneath the expressions of grief, sorrow and disbelief over the Connecticut school massacre lies an uneasy truth in Washington: over the last few years the Obama administration and Congress quietly let federal funding for several key school security programs lapse in the name of budget savings.

Government officials told the Washington Guardian on Friday night that two Justice Department programs that had provided more than $200 million to schools for training, security equipment and police resources over the last decade weren’t renewed in 2011 and 2012, and that a separate program that provided $800 million to put police officers inside the schools was ended a few years earlier.

Meanwhile, the administration eliminated funding in 2011-12 for a separate Education Department program that gave money to schools to prepare for mass tragedies, the officials said.

A nationally recognized school security expert said those funds had been critical for years in helping schools continue to enhance protections against growing threats of violence. But they simply dried up with little notice as the Columbine and Virginia Tech school shooting tragedies faded from memory and many Americans and political leaders had their attentions diverted to elections, a weak economy and overseas dramas.

“I was baffled to see funds and programs cut in these areas,” said Kenneth Trump, the president of the National School Safety and Security Services firm that helps school districts and policymakers improve protections for teachers and students. “Our political and policy leaders need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk about being concerned about school safety.

“We have roller coaster public awareness, public policy, and public funding when it comes to school safety. The question isn’t whether school safety is a priority today and tomorrow,” Trump added. “The question is whether it will be a priority years down the road when there isn’t a crisis in the headlines.”

Leaders in both parties in Washington on Friday expressed remorse and disbelief in the tragedy in the tiny suburban Connecticut town of Newtown, where a single 20-year-old gunman walked into the school where his mother taught and killed 20 children and six others before turning the gun on himself.

“Our hearts are broken today,” President Barack Obama said, wiping a tear from his eyes as he reacted to the tragedy. “As a country we have been through this too many times.

“These neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children. And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics,” the president added.

But last year, his administration took a less muted tone as it submitted its 2012 Education Department budget to Congress that eliminated the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) funding, which for years provided between $20 million and $30 million in annual grants to help schools create emergency and crisis preparation and prevention plans for tragedies just like the one that unfolded Friday.

The Education Department’s Web site says it last made REMS grants in 2011.

The funding was cut off even though the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, warned in 2007 that many “many school district officials said that they experience challenges in planning for emergencies due to a lack of equipment, training for staff, and expertise and some school districts face difficulties in communicating and coordinating with first responders and parents.”

Likewise, the Justice Department over the last 12 years distributed nearly $1 billion in funding to help schools hire police resource officers, install metal detectors and take other countermeasures to prevent tragedies like the Columbine massacre.

The town of Newtown, Conn., in fact, took advantage of one of these programs in 2000 when it got $125,000 in funds from the COPS in Schools program, Justice Department records show.

But Justice Department officials said the key programs that provided money directly to schools in the aftermath of Columbine have been phased out as of 2012, the last after the 2011 budget year.

For instance, the Secure Our Schools program provided more than $110 million in funding to law enforcement agencies to partner with schools for the purchase of crime prevention equipment, staff and student training between 2002 and 2011, officials said. It was ended this year.

Likewise, the School Safety Initiative provided more than $53 million between 1998 and 2010 in grants to help state and local agencies with delinquency prevention, community planning and development, and school safety resources – all aimed at preventing violence. The program ended in 2011.

Justice Department spokesman Corey Ray said Friday night that the SSI and SOS programs had been funded primarily by congressional earmarks for the last decade and the administration did not seek additional funding to continue the efforts after lawmakers essentially banned most earmarks in 2010.

“They were funded through congressionally designated funding (earmarks). They ended in 2010 or 2011 when that process of funding ceased,” he said.

The biggest funding program for school violence was the COPS in Schools program, which Ray said provided $811 millions to communities to hire resource officers who worked inside the schools. The targeted funding for schools was ended in 2005 but police are still allowed to apply for broader police hiring money from the general COPS program and then use it to hire school resource officers if they want, Ray said.

“As the economy changed, we had agencies asking for all types of positions including school resource officers,” Ray explained. “So we gave our main hiring program the flexibility to include SROs and other positions. So no COPS In Schools, but still some options to hire for those positions.”

Some liberal groups have increasingly voiced concerns about the increased spending on police and security at schools. For instance, the Justice Policy Institute, a think tank, wrote a report in 2011 entitled “Education Under Arrest” that concluded that “schools do not need school resource officers to be safe.”

White House officials did not return repeated calls and emails Friday night seeking comment on the administration’s rationale for letting the programs lapse.

With funding for K-12 schools and law enforcement agencies evaporating, police and schools have partnered in an effort to ensure safety by creating makeshift programs that target at-risk schools.

San Diego may provide the most sunshine each year, but it’s also home to multiple K-12 school shootings. San Diego Police Department Lt. Andra Brown said funding for many effective programs succumbed to downsizing and cutbacks. Programs like SOS and DARE are “nice to have,” but aren’t necessarily a “need to have.”

The Department has opted to focus on Psychiatric Emergency Response Team or PERT. “The program pairs a health care psychiatrist with a police officer in the field to proactively stop situations from exploding.”

While San Diego Police may be working proactively to prevent psychologically unstable adults from major crime sprees, the Sheriff Department takes a different approach.

“We are not of the mindset this could not happen here; because it has,” said San Diego Sheriff Public Affairs Director Jan Caldwell. “We work with the school superintendents, principals, staff, and school facility staff members to ensure we have access to the buildings, floor plans and keys to enter when we have to do so.”

Caldwell is also part of San Diego County Crime Stoppers and chair of the Students Speaking Out Committee. “This sub-program is tailored to campuses and provides students an avenue to report suspicious activity at their school. This sub program has had a total of 331 cases solved since inception. We’ve removed weapons from campuses, drugs, confronted bullying behavior, solved robberies, burglaries, vandalism, and drug cases.”

However, this program depends on the generous donations from large corporations like Target, Sempra Energy, Wal-mart and the San Diego Chargers. Story Continued:

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What’s Up: December 14, 2012?

To read the entire article click on the title or Story Continued. Enjoy as the world turns.

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· GOV’T ARRESTS ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT SENATE INTERN

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U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez employed as an unpaid intern in his Senate office an illegal immigrant who was a registered sex offender, now under arrest by immigration authorities, The Associated Press has learned. The Homeland Security Department instructed federal agents not to arrest him until after Election Day, a U.S. official involved in the case told the AP.

Luis Abrahan Sanchez Zavaleta, an 18-year-old immigrant from Peru, was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in front of his home in New Jersey on Dec. 6, two federal officials said. Sanchez, who entered the country on a now-expired visitor visa from Peru, is facing deportation and remains in custody. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of Sanchez’s immigration case.

A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not immediately respond to a request for further details.

Menendez, D-N.J., who advocates aggressively for pro-immigration policies, was re-elected in November with 58 percent of the vote. Congressional staffers who work for Menendez were notified about Sanchez’s case shortly after the arrest. Sanchez told ICE agents that he worked on immigration issues for the senator. A spokesman for Menendez said she was looking into the matter.

Online jail records did not indicate whether Sanchez has an attorney. Immigration officials there were relaying a request from the AP to speak with Sanchez in jail.

The prosecutor’s office in Hudson County, N.J., said Sanchez was found to have violated the law in 2010 and subsequently required to register as a sex offender. The exact charge was unclear because Sanchez was prosecuted as a juvenile and those court records are not publicly accessible. The prosecutor’s office confirmed to AP that Sanchez registered as a sex offender, although his name does not appear on the public registry.

Authorities in Hudson County notified ICE agents in early October that they suspected Sanchez was an illegal immigrant who was a registered sex offender and who may be eligible to be deported. ICE agents in New Jersey notified superiors at the Homeland Security Department because they considered it a potentially high profile arrest, and DHS instructed them not to arrest Sanchez until after the November election, one U.S. official told the AP. ICE officials complained that the delay was inappropriate, but DHS directed them several times not to act, the official said.

It was not immediately clear why federal immigration authorities would not have been notified sooner about Sanchez’s status.

During discussions about when and where to arrest Sanchez, the U.S. reviewed Sanchez’s application for permission to stay in the country as part of President Barack Obama’s policy to allow up to 1.7 million young illegal immigrants avoid deportation and get permission to work for up to two years. As a sex offender, he would not have been eligible. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which oversees the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, notified Sanchez of that shortly before his arrest, one official said.

During the final weeks of President George W. Bush’s administration, ICE was criticized for delaying the arrest of President Barack Obama’s aunt, who had ignored an immigration judge’s order to leave the country several years earlier after her asylum claim was denied. She subsequently won the right to stay in the United States after an earlier deportation order, and there was no evidence of involvement by the White House.

In that case, the Homeland Security Department had imposed an unusual directive days before the 2008 election requiring high-level approval before federal agents nationwide could arrest fugitive immigrants including Zeituni Onyango, the half-sister of Obama’s late father. The directive from ICE expressed concerns about “negative media or congressional interest,” according to a copy of that directive obtained by AP. The department lifted the immigration order weeks later. Story Continued:

· Berkshire buyback seen clashing with estate tax push

Warren Buffett’s $1.2 billion share buyback from a single unnamed investor likely helped that person’s estate save substantially on taxes, just one day after the Berkshire Hathaway CEO said the rich should actually be paying more, not less, when they die.

With the “fiscal cliff” looming and estate taxes set to rise dramatically in less than three weeks, the timing was seen as advantageous – and, according to Berkshire watchers, also out of place in the context of Buffett’s recent tax activism.

“I would say ‘Warren, would you please just keep your nose out of this.’ He’s not in a position to criticize what’s good for America and for everyone else’s estate,” said Anthony Sabino, a professor of business at St. John’s University. “He’s no doubt utilized the present tax code to maximum effect.”

Berkshire said it bought 9,200 Class A shares from “the estate of a long-time shareholder,” whom it did not name, at $131,000 per share, a price in line with where Berkshire has traded in recent weeks.

Buffett’s assistant didn’t respond to a request for comment on the shareholder’s identity. The shares represent 1 percent of Berkshire’s Class A stock.

The repurchase came less than a month ahead of the looming “fiscal cliff,” automatic tax hikes and spending cuts set for Jan. 1 that the White House and members of Congress have been negotiating to avoid.

Among other levies, the estate tax is expected to rise in the new year package by as much as 20 percentage points, which may have spurred the anonymous shareholder to sell now.

Buffett was a signatory of an open letter released Tuesday that called for a lower starting point for the tax and a higher taxation rate, beginning at 45 percent.

“We believe it is right to have a significant tax on large estates when they are passed on to the next generation. We believe it is right morally and economically, and that an estate tax promotes democracy by slowing the concentration of wealth and power,” the 33 signers wrote in the letter released by the campaign, United for a Fair Economy.

He has also been publicly campaigning for more than a year for higher taxes on the wealthy, even lending his name to a proposal called the “Buffett Rule” that failed in Congress.

DEATH AND TAXES

Berkshire also said Wednesday it raised the threshold for future share buybacks to 120 percent of book value from 110 percent, the level it chose when it first approved a repurchase program in September 2011. The higher level allowed Berkshire to complete this latest buyback, which was above the old threshold.

After news of the buyback, Berkshire’s shares were up 3.1 percent at $134,850.

Based on the company’s book value at the end of the third quarter, the buyback limit would stand for now at $134,061.60. The stock has traded below that level for most of this quarter.

Buffett was always loath to offer share buybacks and consented to it last year only after Berkshire hit historically low valuations. In its most recent quarterly filing, Berkshire said it had not made any repurchases in the first nine months of 2012, after spending just $67.5 million on buybacks in 2011.

“I don’t expect a significant repurchase program to be announced as (Buffett) is clear that he is in acquisition mode,” said Michael Yoshikami, founder and CEO of Destination Wealth Management and a long-time Berkshire investor.

Berkshire ended the third quarter with $47.78 billion in cash, and Buffett has made no secret of his desire for a purchase in the $20 billion to $30 billion range.

Yet given his wealth and his own self-professed low tax rate, Buffett has been called out in some quarters for not practicing what he preaches.

“I have a problem with Warren, who’s basically done with this (issue), to say ‘yeah, raise the estate tax,'” Sabino said.

“I think, again, with all due respect for his sagacity at selling stocks, he’s being incredibly short-sighted.” Story Continued:

· Obama’s America Will Become Detroit – President Barack Obama travelled to Michigan this week and made his case for class war in defense of the welfare state.

We need to take more money from the rich, he said, or schools will not be able to afford books, students will not be able to afford college, and disabled children will not get health care.

“Our economic success has never come from the top down,” said Obama. “It comes from the middle out. It comes from the bottom up.”

Obama spoke these words a few miles from Detroit — the reductio ad absurdum of his argument.

If America continues down the road to Obama’s America — a road that began when President Franklin Roosevelt started building a welfare state here — our entire nation will become Detroit.

Obama’s economic and moral vision has played out in that city. What he seeks has been achieved there.

Last week, as reported by the Detroit Free Press, Michigan’s state treasurer told Detroit’s mayor and city council that the state may soon appoint an emergency financial manager for the city. Under Michigan law, the paper said, only such a manager can initiate the steps leading to a bankruptcy filing for the city.

By current calculations, Detroit faces obligations over the next six months that exceed its revenues by $47 million. The city, the Free Press reported, now pays $1.08 in benefits to municipal workers and retirees for every $1.00 it pays in salary.

What happened to Detroit? It is achieving socialism in one city.

Traditional two-parent families and the productive taxpaying citizens they produce have fled. In 1950, according the U.S. Census Bureau, Detroit had 1,849,568 people and was the fifth-largest city in the nation. By 2000, its population had dropped to 951,270; by 2010, to 713,777; and by 2011, to 706,585.

What has happened to the people who remain? The Census Bureau estimates there are 563,055 people age 16 or older in the city who could potentially work and be part of the labor force. But only 54.3 percent of these — or 305,479 individuals — actually do participate in the labor force, meaning they either have a job or are looking for one.

Another 257,576 of Detroit residents age 16 or older — 45.7 percent of that demographic — do not participate in the labor force. They do not have a job, and they are not looking for one.

In fact, these 257,576 people in Detroit who do not have a job and are not looking for one outnumber the 224,846 residents who do have jobs. But of the 224,846 residents who do have jobs, 34,500 — or 15.3 percent — have jobs with the government. Thus, this city that boasted 1,849,568 residents in 1950 has only 190,346 private-sector workers today.

There are 264,209 households in Detroit, and 91,204 of them — or 34.5 percent — get food stamps.

Very few of the people who are staying out of the labor force in Detroit are staying out because they are stay-at-home moms with working husbands. Of the 264,209 households in Detroit, only 24,275 — or 9.2 percent — are married couple families with children under 18. Another 78,438 households — or 29.7 percent of the total — are “families” headed by women with no husband present. Of these, 43,742 have children under 18.

There were 12,103 babies born in Detroit in the 12 months prior to the Census Bureau survey, and 9,124 of them — or 75.4 percent — were born to unmarried women.

Of the 363,281 housing units in Detroit, 99,072 are vacant. Indeed, vacant houses have become a powerful visual symbol of what advancing socialism has done to the city. Traditional family life is nearing extinction in this once vibrant corner of America.

Obama said in Michigan that if the federal government does not take more money away from people who have earned it, the public schools may not be able to buy school books. But the Department of Education says that in the Detroit public schools — which have books — only 7 percent of the eight graders are grade-level proficient in reading and only 4 percent are grade-level proficient in math.

School books are not lacking here. Self-reliance, the spirit of individualism, and the Judeo-Christian values that support marriage and family are. They have been driven out by a government that wants the people to depend on it rather than on themselves, their families and their faith. Story Continued:

· McAfee: I’m Free

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Software mogul John McAfee has been released from detention in Guatemala City and is on a plane bound for Miami.

“They took me out of my cell and put me on a freaking airplane,” he told ABC News. “I had no choice in the matter.”

McAfee said, however, that Guatemalan authorities had been “nice” and that his exit from the Central American country was ‘not at all’ unpleasant.” It was the most gracious expulsion I’ve ever experienced. Compared to my past two wives that expelled me this isn’t a terrible trip.”

McAfee, 67, said he would not be accompanied by his 20-year-old Belizean girlfriend, but is seeking a visa for her. He also said he had retained a lawyer in the U.S.

When he was released earlier today, McAfee told the Associated Press, “I’m free. … I’m going to America.”

McAfee, who had been living in a beachfront house in Belize, went on the run after the Nov. 10 murder of his neighbor, fellow American expatriate Greg Faull. Belize police said they wanted to question McAfee about the murder, but McAfee said he feared for his life in Belizean custody.

He entered Guatemala last week seeking asylum, but was arrested and taken to an immigration detention center. He was taken to the hospital after suffering a nervous collapse and then returned to the detention center. The U.S. State Department has visited McAfee, who is a dual U.S.-British citizen, several times during his stay in Guatemala.

During his three-week journey, said McAfee, he disguised himself as handicapped, dyed his hair seven times and hid in many different places during his three-week journey.

He dismissed accounts of erratic behavior and reports that he had been using the synthetic drug bath salts. He said he had never used the drug, and said statements that he had were part of an elaborate prank.

Investigators in Belize said that McAfee was not a suspect in the death of Faull, a former developer who was found shot in the head in his house.

McAfee told ABC News that the poisoning death of his dogs and the murder just hours later of Faull, who had complained about his dogs, was a coincidence. Story Continued:

· What Election Day bounce? Voters’ outlook falls to Earth

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Forget the post-Election Day tradition of a more upbeat America in the weeks after voters go to the polls and make clear what they want from their leaders. A new McClatchy-Marist poll finds that people are gloomy about the economy and Washington’s ability to make it better anytime soon.

And they’re not optimistic about the prospects for meaningful compromise between the White House and congressional Republicans during President Barack Obama’s second term.

Sixty-two percent of voters nationwide think the already-strained relations between the White House and congressional Republicans won’t improve. The two sides face years of contentious issues, starting with next year’s budget and tax battles and very likely including an overhaul of the immigration system.

The downbeat mood has persisted for some time, as people watch Congress and the White House struggle to find common ground even on once-routine government business. The Dec. 4-6 McClatchy-Marist survey showed that attitudes about Obama, Congress and the state of the economy haven’t shifted since the Nov. 6 election.

“The election came and went and not too much has changed,” said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the national survey.

Obama isn’t even getting a small bump in polls after he decisively beat Republican Mitt Romney last month. His job-approval rating among registered voters was 50 percent, roughly the same as his popular-vote showing.

Republicans in Congress fared worse, even though the party retained a sizable majority in the House of Representatives. Congressional Republicans registered approval with about one in four people, down slightly from March.

Congressional Democrats, who control the Senate, don’t fare much better, with about one in three voters voicing approval.

Overall, registered voters thought the nation continues to head in the wrong direction: Fifty-six percent expressed concern, while 39 percent saw matters heading in the right direction. Fifty-three percent said the worst was yet to come, while 42 percent agreed the worst “is behind us.”

Voters see little help coming anytime soon. Forty-one percent expect that they’ll be about the same economically in the coming year, while 25 percent think they’ll be better off and 34 percent think things will get worse.

Experts warn that failure to avoid the “fiscal cliff” – the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts coupled with automatic federal-spending reductions due in January – could send the fragile economy into another recession. Even if negotiators find alternatives this month, no thaw in the public’s mood is anticipated and the public is as polarized as it’s ever been.

While Democrats overwhelmingly approve of the job Obama is doing, and Republicans strongly disapprove, independents are split, the poll found.

It suggests that the president has the most at stake politically in the years ahead, despite the low Republican numbers.

Miringoff called it astounding that for the past four years, George W. Bush got much of the blame for the sluggish economy, even though the recession formally ended six months after Obama took office.

“In the second term,” Miringoff said, “it becomes harder for Obama to make that case. People think he’s in the driver’s seat now.”

The poll makes that clear. Nearly two-thirds said Obama would have more influence over the nation’s direction in the next two years, while about one in four think congressional Republicans will wield more clout.

Obama, though, starts with a stronger base. More than seven in 10 Democrats think the second term will be better, and about the same number think the party is “about right,” neither too liberal nor too conservative.

Six in 10 Republicans see their party’s philosophy as about right, but one in five think the party is too liberal. Story Continued:

· CHAFFETZ: STATE DEPT HIDING BENGHAZI SURVIVORS

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Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R- UT) told Breitbart News on Wednesday that he has been “thwarted” by the State Department from seeing any Americans who survived the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Many people forget that there were Americans who survived the Benghazi attack, some of whom were badly injured and are still recovering.

“My understanding is that we still have some people in the hospital. I’d like to visit with them and wish them nothing but the best but the State Department has seen it unfit for me to know who those people are—or even how many there are,” Rep. Chaffetz said. “I don’t know who they are. I don’t know where they live. I don’t know what state they’re from. I don’t even know how many there are. It doesn’t seem right to me.”

“This is so patently different than any other experience I’ve had. Unfortunately, people have been killed and maimed and in harm’s way in Afghanistan and Iraq and in points beyond. It’s typically been the case that they would release those names but in this case, they won’t. My challenge is to the media. You try and figure it out. They won’t let Congress know. They won’t seem to let the media know either.”

Breitbart News sent an inquiry to the State Department regarding those who survived the attack in Benghazi and is awaiting a response. Story Continued:

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· Top GOP aide: ‘We’ll confirm Hagel, Kerry’ – The growing possibility of President Obama naming Democratic Sen. John Kerry as secretary of State and former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel to run the Pentagon is being embraced by Senate Republicans who predict confirmation.

“I think both of them will be questioned vigorously but confirmed,” said a top GOP Senate aide, meaning the GOP won’t put up a fight in the Democratically-controlled chamber. That will be a key selling point as Obama considers his choices.

Reports emerged Thursday that Hagel, a Vietnam vet from Nebraska, was the frontrunner to replace exiting Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

At the same time, the U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, president’s leading choice to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, withdrew her name from consideration. All eyes immediately turned to Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Obama’s sometime emissary overseas.

Kerry is best liked of the two among Senate GOP members. “I think Kerry would sail through as secretary of State since so many senators have already said that he has the right judgment and experience for that position,” said a top aide to a Senate Republican leader.

Another top aide agreed, adding that GOP criticism of Rice’s handling of the Benghazi, Libya attack helped knock her out. “I think Kerry gets through fine. We won by forcing Rice out. No one liked her.”

Hagel, some said, will be pressed on his criticism of Israel, but it’s less of an issue at the Pentagon.

“I’d need to talk to more folks about Hagel at DoD. But he’ll probably be fine,” said one GOP aide. Another said, “He’s a former senator and that surely will grease the wheels for him.” Story Continued:

· A Potential Conflict of Interest for Chuck Hagel – Potential Defense nominee advises bank under investigation for violating Iran sanctions

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Former Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, on the shortlist for secretary of defense in the second Obama administration, sits on the board of a bank that is under investigation for allegedly violating United States sanctions on Iran.

The revelation could complicate the possible nomination of Hagel, who has come under sharp criticism for what critics describe as his troubling foreign policy views, which include calling for direct unconditional talks with Iran. Hagel reportedly met with President Barack Obama on Dec. 4 to discuss the Secretary of Defense position, according to Bloomberg News, and has passed the White House counsel’s vetting process.

Hagel was appointed in 2009 to Deutsche Bank’s Americas Advisory Board. The paid position placed him in close contact with the bank’s senior leadership.

Germany’s Deutsche Bank is reportedly being probed by U.S. authorities for violating a trade embargo on Iran’s oil and energy sector, which is believed to play a key role in Tehran’s nuclear enrichment program.

Deutsche Bank denies these allegations.

Hagel’s opponents tell the Free Beacon that the former Senator has many questions to answer about his ties to Deutsche Bank.

“The key question for the committees during a confirmation process will be what did Mr. Hagel know, when did he know it, and why has he remained affiliated with Deutsche Bank throughout this process?” asked a senior senate aide involved in the potential confirmation process.

“Why has this man not resigned yet from this advisory council?” the source asked.

Senate insiders have told the Free Beacon that Hagel would face staunch opposition if he were to be nominated by the president. He has been criticized by the pro-Israel community for what they claim is his sharp criticism of Israel and for his support for the elimination of America’s nuclear arsenal.

Hagel’s relationship with Deutsche Bank raises troubling questions and could pose a serious conflict of interest, sources said.

“Somebody who willingly stands by as an official of a company helping the Iranian regime acquire nuclear weapons capabilities cannot credibly stand up as the secretary of defense for a country that may need to go to war with Iran,” said the senate source.

Attempts to reach Hagel through the Atlantic Council, where he currently serves as chairman, were unsuccessful.

A source close to Deutsche Bank’s American division told the Free Beacon that Hagel would not have had knowledge of any possible dealings with Iran and would not have been briefed on the issue.

Deutsche Bank in Germany is reported to be one of four European banks under investigation for doing business with Iran. Deutsche Bank officials deny the allegation.

The bank allegedly admitted in its quarterly earnings report this year that it was being investigated by U.S. authorities for its dealings with Iran, according to the Jerusalem Post.

“The possible violation deals with a financial transaction with the Islamic Republic in U.S. dollars,” according to the report. “Deutsche Bank says it will now cooperate with the authorities, though it had previously refused to comment on the allegations.”

A source close Deutsche Bank confirmed that there was an inquiry, but maintained that it related to the bank’s “historical” dealings with Iran and would have pre-dated Hagel’s affiliation with company.

It is believed that Deutsche Bank “funneled billions of dollars through their American branches for Iran, Sudan, and other sanctioned nations, according to law enforcement officials with knowledge of the cases,” the New York Times reported earlier this year.

Hagel joined Deutsche Bank’s Americas Advisory Board (AAB) in 2009, soon after leaving the Senate, where he served for 12 years.

“We are extremely proud to add yet another member to the Board with strong business experience and a distinguished record of service to his country,” Seth Waugh, Deutsche Bank Americas’ CEO and a member of the Group Executive Committee, said at the time. “The collective knowledge and experience assembled on these boards has been exceptionally beneficial for Deutsche Bank and its clients, and we look forward to Chuck’s participation going forward.”

Hagel’s position involves advising and consulting with “Deutsche Bank executives and clients on a wide range of strategic and market issues, including business development and growth as well as economic, industry, political and social trends,” according to a statement. “Board members also advise on client initiatives.”

Hagel serves on the board in a non-governmental role and has no fiduciary responsibilities related to the bank.

Prosecutors raided Deutsche Bank’s headquarters Wednesday in a tax-evasion investigation, according to The New York Times. The bank revealed Thursday that it expects weak earnings. Story Continued:

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What’s Up: December 12, 2012?

To read the entire article click on the title or Story Continued. Enjoy as the world turns.

· The Sebelius Cover up – Obamacare’s insurance exchanges need scrutiny.

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Many states are wisely signaling that they aren’t interested in doing the Obama administration’s bidding on Obamacare. As a result, many if not most of Obamacare’s insurance exchanges — the heart of the beast — will have to be set up and run by the Obama administration at the federal level.

States are not required to set up Obamacare exchanges, but it seems to have surprised observers that many are choosing not to. Politico reports that, with only 17 states so far having said they will set up the exchanges, the “Department of Health and Human Services role in bringing the law to life is going to be a lot bigger than originally thought.” More than a third of all states have already said they won’t set up the Obamacare exchanges. Among others, Republican governors Scott Walker, John Kasich, Sam Brownback, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Nikki Haley, Nathan Deal, Paul LePage, Robert Bentley, Mary Fallin, and Sean Parnell have said they’ll refuse to set up the exchanges in their states.

In Missouri, voters took matters into their own hands, approving a ballot measure to vest authority over the decision in the Republican-led state legislature, rather than leaving it up to the Democratic governor. Missouri will not be establishing an exchange. Utah governor Gary Herbert, meanwhile, has opted for a sort of mild civil disobedience, saying that his state will continue to pursue “our version of an exchange based on defined contribution, consumer choice, and free markets” — a type of exchange that is rather plainly banned by Obamacare.

States’ refusal to be complicit in this crucial aspect of Obamacare should shine a spotlight on the development of the federal exchanges — and what it illuminates won’t be pretty.

The Obama administration’s congressional allies botched the drafting of this aspect of the health care overhaul, as the plain language of Obamacare doesn’t empower federal exchanges to distribute taxpayer-funded subsidies to individuals; it empowers only state-based exchanges to distribute the subsidies. (The administration pretends otherwise.) Moreover, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is lagging behind in developing the federal exchanges.

It gets worse. HHS has contracted with a subsidiary of a private health care company to help build and police the very exchanges in which that company will be competing for business. The person who ran the government entity that awarded that contract has since accepted a position with a different subsidiary of that same company. An insurance industry insider (speaking on the condition of anonymity) says that HHS, in an attempt to hide this unseemly contract from public view until after the election, encouraged the company to hide the transaction from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

According to my source (the basis for most of this account), in January, HHS awarded Quality Software Services, Inc. (QSSI) what the Hill describes as “a large contract to build a federal data services hub to help run the complex federal health insurance exchange.” At that time, the director of Obamacare’s newly established Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) — which the Hill describes as “the office tasked with crafting rules for the national exchange” — was Steve Larsen. Larsen had been the insurance commissioner for Maryland when Obama’s HHS secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, was the insurance commissioner for Kansas, and the two are reportedly close. The CCIIO awarded the Obamacare exchange contract to QSSI while Larsen was the CCIIO’s director, and he played a central role in planning the construction of the exchanges — although it’s not known whether he made the decision to award the contract to QSSI or not.

Under the contract that it signed with HHS, QSSI’s power would be substantial — as QSSI would shape, run, and affect companies’ ability to compete to sell insurance through Obamacare’s federal exchanges. The Hill writes, “A draft statement of work for the contract awarded to QSSI states the contractor should provide services necessary to acquire, certify and decertify health plans offered on a federal exchange.” Moreover, “It stipulates the contractor should monitor agreements with health plans, ensure compliance with federal standards and” — somewhat strikingly — “take corrective action when necessary.”

QSSI, apparently realizing what a valuable asset it had in the contract, started shopping itself around. Meanwhile, Larsen left the CCIIO and took a highly paid position with Optum, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, in June. Sometime this summer, UnitedHealth Group bought QSSI. Story Continued:

· Chinese bid wins auction for A123 – A Chinese car parts maker has won the auction for bankrupt US battery maker A123 Systems, in a further success in international deal making for Chinese groups.

Wanxiang Group bid about $257m to win the auction for the battery maker, which supplies electric cars. The sale still requires the approval of the Delaware court where A123 filed for bankruptcy.

The US group will formally submit the bid to the court for approval on Tuesday. The sale will also require the approval of the US Committee on Foreign Investment.

In an effort to ease political approval, Wanxiang will not be taking over A123’s defence business, which will be sold to Illinois-based Navitas for $2.25m.

“We think we have structured this transaction to address potential national security concerns expressed during the review of our previous investment agreement with Wanxiang announced in August, as well as to address concerns raised by the Department of Energy,” said Dave Vieau, chief executive of A123.

Wanxiang beat a joint bid by Johnson Controls of Milwaukee and Japan’s NEC. Its victory comes after Cnooc, the Beijing backed oil group, on Friday secured Canadian approval for its $18bn bid for Nexen, the biggest Chinese M&A deal on record.

China M&A in the year to December 7 reached $145bn, a record for any year to this point, according to Thomson Reuters.

In October, A123 – which was awarded a $249m grant from the US government – became the latest stimulus-backed company to file for bankruptcy, prompting a fresh round of attacks on President Barack Obama’s support for emerging energy technologies.

The company said it was seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection “to provide for an orderly sale” of its operations and “help maximise the value of its assets for its stakeholders”.

The company had attempted to secure a rescue deal with Wanxiang before it went into administration.

The company had been a flagship of Mr Obama’s attempt to stimulate new environmentally friendly industries but ran into difficulties as a result of slower than expected sales of electric cars.

Its bankruptcy follows that of other companies backed by US government grants or loan guarantees, including Solyndra, a manufacturer of solar modules, Abound Solar, another panel maker, and Ener1, which also makes batteries for electric cars.

A123 did not get a loan guarantee but was awarded the $249m grant as part of the Obama administration’s stimulus in 2009. By the end of June it had drawn down only about $130m of the money because demand for its products was not strong enough to justify additional investment in manufacturing capacity.

It also received grants and tax credits from the state of Michigan of up to $141m. Story Continued:

· Google Revenues Sheltered in No-Tax Bermuda Soar to $10 Billion – Google Inc. (GOOG) avoided about $2 billion in worldwide income taxes in 2011 by shifting $9.8 billion in revenues into a Bermuda shell company, almost double the total from three years before, filings show.

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By legally funneling profits from overseas subsidiaries into Bermuda, which doesn’t have a corporate income tax, Google cut its overall tax rate almost in half. The amount moved to Bermuda is equivalent to about 80 percent of Google’s total pretax profit in 2011.

The increase in Google’s revenues routed to Bermuda, disclosed in a Nov. 21 filing by a subsidiary in the Netherlands, could fuel the outrage spreading across Europe and in the U.S. over corporate tax dodging. Governments in France, the U.K., Italy and Australia are probing Google’s tax avoidance as they seek to boost revenue during economic doldrums.

Last week, the European Union’s executive body, the European Commission, advised member states to create blacklists of tax havens and adopt anti-abuse rules. Tax evasion and avoidance, which cost the EU 1 trillion euros ($1.3 trillion) a year, are “scandalous” and “an attack on the fundamental principle of fairness,” Algirdas Semeta, the EC’s commissioner for taxation, said at a press conference in Brussels.

‘Deep Embarrassment’

“The tax strategy of Google and other multinationals is a deep embarrassment to governments around Europe,” said Richard Murphy, an accountant and director of Tax Research LLP in Norfolk, England. “The political awareness now being created in the U.K., and to a lesser degree elsewhere in Europe, is: It’s us or them. People understand that if Google doesn’t pay, somebody else has to pay or services get cut.”

Google said it complies with all tax rules, and its investment in various European countries helps their economies. In the U.K., “we also employ over 2,000 people, help hundreds of thousands of businesses to grow online, and invest millions supporting new tech businesses in East London,” the Mountain View, California-based company said in a statement.

The Internet search giant has avoided billions of dollars in income taxes around the world using a pair of tax shelter strategies known as the Double Irish and Dutch Sandwich, Bloomberg News reported in 2010. The tactics, permitted under tax law in the U.S. and elsewhere, move royalty payments from subsidiaries in Ireland and the Netherlands to a Bermuda unit headquartered in a local law firm.

Last year, Google reported a tax rate of just 3.2 percent on the profit it said was earned overseas, even as most of its foreign sales were in European countries with corporate income tax rates ranging from 26 percent to 34 percent.

Foreign Taxes

At a hearing last month in the U.K., members of Parliament pressed executives from Google, Seattle-based Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) and Starbucks Corp. (SBUX) to explain why they don’t pay more taxes there.

The U.K., Google’s second-biggest market, was responsible for about 11 percent of its sales, or almost $4.1 billion last year, according to company filings. Google paid 6 million pounds ($9.6 million) in U.K. income taxes.

Matt Brittin, Google’s vice president for Northern and Central Europe, testified that the company pays taxes where it creates “economic value,” primarily the U.S.

Still, Google attributes some profit based on technology created in the U.S. to offshore subsidiaries, lowering its U.S. taxes, according to company filings and people familiar with its tax planning. Google paid $1.5 billion in income taxes worldwide in 2011.

‘Fair Share’

In the wake of the parliamentary hearing, the House of Commons issued a report last week declaring that multinationals “do not pay their fair share” of tax. The committee also criticized the U.K.’s tax collection agency, Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs, for “not taking sufficiently aggressive action” and called on the agency to “get a grip” on corporate tax avoidance.

A spokesman for HMRC said the agency “ensures that multinationals pay the tax due in accordance with U.K. tax law.”

The French tax authority this year proposed increasing Google’s income taxes by about $1.3 billion. The agency searched Google’s Paris offices in June 2011 and removed computer files as part of an examination first reported by Bloomberg last year. Google is cooperating with French authorities and works with them “to answer all their questions on Google France and our service,” the company said.

Italian Audit

In Italy, the Tax Police began an audit of Google last month and recently searched the company’s Milan offices, as well as the offices of Facebook Inc. (FB), according to a person familiar with the matter. “It’s very common for companies to be audited, and we have been working closely with the Italian authorities for some time,” Google said. “So far we have not had any demands for additional tax in Italy.”

Facebook, based in Menlo Park, California, is cooperating with the Italian tax authority and “we take our obligations under the Italian tax code very seriously,” a company spokeswoman said.

In Australia, the country’s assistant treasurer gave a speech last month outlining Google’s tax avoidance strategies.

The use of offshore shelters to avoid corporate taxes has prompted calls for reform in the U.S. as well. The Treasury Department has repeatedly proposed since 2009, with little success, to make it harder for multinationals to bypass taxes by shifting profit into tax havens.

Transfer Pricing

Multinational companies cut their tax bills using “transfer pricing,” paper transactions among corporate subsidiaries that allow for allocating income to tax havens and expenses to higher-tax countries.

In Google’s case, an Irish subsidiary collects revenues from ads sold in countries like the U.K. and France. That Irish unit in turn pays royalties to another Irish subsidiary, whose legal residence for tax purposes is in Bermuda.

The pair of Irish units gives rise to the nickname “Double Irish.” To avoid an Irish withholding tax, Google channeled the payments to Bermuda through a subsidiary in the Netherlands — thus the “Dutch Sandwich” label. The Netherlands subsidiary has no employees.

The Dutch unit’s payments to the Bermuda entity last year were up 81 percent to $9.8 billion from $5.4 billion in 2008. Google’s overseas sales have increased at about the same rate.

Google’s overall effective tax rate dropped to 21 percent last year from about 28 percent in 2008. That compares with the average combined U.S. and state statutory rate of about 39 percent. Story Continued:

· The Reality of the “Lesser Evil” – Is This Child Dead Enough for You?To all those now hailing the re-election of Barack Obama as a triumph of decent, humane, liberal values over the oozing-postule perfidy of the Republicans, a simple question:

Is this child dead enough for you?

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This little boy was named Naeemullah. He was in his house — maybe playing, maybe sleeping, maybe having a meal — when an American drone missile was fired into the residential area where he lived and blew up the house next door.

As we all know, these drone missiles are, like the president who wields them, super-smart, a triumph of technology and technocratic expertise. We know, for the president and his aides have repeatedly told us, that these weapons — launched only after careful consultation of the just-war strictures of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas — strike nothing but their intended targets and kill no one but “bad guys.” Indeed, the president’s top aides have testified under oath that not a single innocent person has been among the thousands of Pakistani civilians — that is, civilians of a sovereign nation that is not at war with the United States — who have been killed by the drone missile campaign of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

Yet somehow, by some miracle, the missile that roared into the residential area where Naeemullah lived did not confine itself neatly to the house it struck. Somehow, inexplicably, the hunk of metal and wire and computer processors failed — in this one instance — to look into the souls of all the people in the village and ascertain, by magic, which ones were “bad guys” and then kill only them. Somehow — perhaps the missile had been infected with Romney cooties? — this supercharged hunk of high explosives simply, well, exploded with tremendous destructive power when it struck the residential area, blowing the neighborhood to smithereens.

As Wired reports, shrapnel and debris went flying through the walls of Naeemullah’s house and ripped through his small body. When the attack was over — when the buzzing drone sent with Augustinian wisdom by the Peace Laureate was no longer lurking over the village, shadowing the lives of every defenseless inhabitant with the terrorist threat of imminent death, Naeemullah was taken to the hospital in a nearby town.

This is where the picture of above was taken by Noor Behram, a resident of North Waziristan who has been chronicling the effects of the Peace Laureate’s drone war. When the picture was taken, Naeemullah was dying. He died an hour later.

He died.

Is he dead enough for you?

Dead enough not to disturb your victory dance in any way? Dead enough not to trouble the inauguration parties yet to come? Dead enough not to diminish, even a little bit, your exultant glee at the fact that this great man, a figure of integrity, decency, honor and compassion, will be able to continue his noble leadership of the best nation in the history of the world?

Do you have children? Do they sit your house playing happily? Do they sleep sweetly scrunched up in their warm beds at night? Do they chatter and prattle like funny little birds as you eat with them at the family table? Do you love them? Do you treasure them? Do you consider them fully-fledged human beings, beloved souls of infinite worth?

How would you feel if you saw them ripped to shreds by flying shrapnel, in your own house? How would you feel as you rushed them to the hospital, praying every step of the way that another missile won’t hurl down on you from the sky? Your child was innocent, you had done nothing, were simply living your life in your own house — and someone thousands of miles away, in a country you had never seen, had no dealings with, had never harmed in any way, pushed a button and sent chunks of burning metal into your child’s body. How would you feel as you watched him die, watched all your hopes and dreams for him, all the hours and days and years you would have to love him, fade away into oblivion, lost forever?

What would you think about the one who did this to your child? Would you say: “What a noble man of integrity and decency? I’m sure he is acting for the best.”

Would you say: “Well, this is a bit unfortunate, but it’s perfectly understandable? The Chinese government (or Iran or al Qaeda or North Korea or Russia, etc. etc.) believed there was someone next door to me who might possibly at some point in time pose some kind of threat in some unspecified way to their people or their political agenda — or maybe it was just that my next-door neighbor behaved in a certain arbitrarily chosen way that indicated to people watching him on a computer screen thousands of miles away that he might possibly be the sort of person who might conceivably at some point in time pose some kind of unspecified threat to the Chinese (Iranians/Russians, etc.), even though they had no earthly idea who my neighbor is or what he does or believes or intends. I think the person in charge of such a program is a good, wise, decent man that any person would be proud to support. Why, I think I’ll ask him to come speak at my little boy’s funeral!”

Is that what you would say if shrapnel from a missile blew into your comfortable house and killed your own beloved little boy? You would not only accept, understand, forgive, shrug it off, move on — you would actively support the person who did it, you would cheer his personal triumphs and sneer at all those who questioned his moral worthiness and good intentions? Is that really what you would do?

Well, that is what you are doing when you shrug off the murder of little Naeemullah. You are saying he is not worth as much as your child. You are saying he is not a fully-fledged human being, a beloved soul of infinite worth. You are saying that you support his death, you are happy about it, and you want to see many more like it. You are saying it doesn’t matter if this child — or a hundred like him, or a thousand like him, or, as in the Iraqi sanctions of the old liberal lion, Bill Clinton, five hundred thousand children like Naeemullah — are killed in your name, by leaders you cheer and support. You are saying that the only thing that matters is that someone from your side is in charge of killing these children. This is the reality of “lesser evilism.”

Before the election, we heard a lot of talk about this notion of the “lesser evil.” From prominent dissidents and opponents of empire like Daniel Ellsberg and Noam Chomsky and Robert Parry to innumerable progressive blogs to personal conversations, one heard this basic argument: “Yes, the drone wars, the gutting of civil liberties, the White House death squads and all the rest are bad; but Romney would be worse. Therefore, with great reluctance, holding our noses and shaking our heads sadly, we must choose the lesser evil of Obama and vote accordingly.”

I understand that argument, I really do. I don’t agree with it, as I made plain here many times before the election. I think the argument is wrong, I think our system is so far gone that even a “lesser evil” is too evil to support in any way, that such support only perpetuates the system’s unconscionable evils. But I’m not a purist, not a puritan, not a commissar or dogmatist. I understand that people of good will can come to a different conclusion, and feel that they must reluctantly choose one imperial-militarist-corporate faction over the other, in the belief that this will mean some slight mitigation of the potential evil that the other side commit if it took power. I used to think that way myself, years ago. Again, I now disagree with this, and I think that the good people who believe this have not, for whatever reason or reasons, looked with sufficient clarity at the reality of our situation, of what is actually being done, in their name, by the political faction they support.

But of course, I am not the sole arbiter of reality, nor a judge of others; people see what they see, and they act (or refrain from acting) accordingly. I understand that. But here is what I don’t understand: the sense of triumph and exultation and glee on the part of so many progressives and liberals and ‘dissidents’ at the victory of this “lesser evil.” Where did the reluctance, the nose-holding, the sad head-shaking go? Should they not be mourning the fact that evil has triumphed in America, even if, by their lights, it is a “lesser” evil?

If you really believed that Obama was a lesser evil — 2 percent less evil, as I believe Digby once described the Democrats in 2008 — if you really did find the drone wars and the White House death squads and Wall Street bailouts and absolution for torturers and all the rest to be shameful and criminal, how can you be happy that all of this will continue? Happy — and continuing to scorn anyone who opposed the perpetuation of this system.

The triumph of a lesser evil is still a victory for evil. If your neighborhood is tyrannized by warring mafia factions, you might prefer that the faction which occasionally doles out a few free hams wins out over their more skinflint rivals; but would you be joyful about the fact that your neighborhood is still being tyrannized by murderous criminals? Would you not be sad, cast down, discouraged and disheartened to see the violence and murder and corruption go on? Would you not mourn the fact that your children will have to grow up in the midst of all this?

So where is the mourning for the fact that we, as a nation, have come to this: a choice between murderers, a choice between plunderers? Even if you believe that you had to participate and make the horrific choice that was being offered to us — “Do you want the Democrat to kill these children, or do you want the Republican to kill these children?” — shouldn’t this post-election period be a time of sorrow, not vaulting triumph and giddy glee and snarky put-downs of the “losers”?

If you really are a “lesser evilist” — if this was a genuine moral choice you reluctantly made, and not a rationalization for indulging in unexamined, primitive partisanship — then you will know that we are ALL the losers of this election. Even if you believe it could have been worse, it is still very bad. You yourself proclaimed that Obama was evil — just a bit “lesser” so than his opponent. (2 percent maybe.) And so the evil that you yourself saw and named and denounced will go on. Again I ask: where is the joy and glory and triumph in this? Even if you believe it was unavoidable, why celebrate it? And ask yourself, bethink yourself: what are you celebrating? This dead child, and a hundred like him? A thousand like him? Five hundred thousand like him? How far will you go? What won’t you celebrate?

And so step by step, holding the hand of the “lesser evil,” we descend deeper and deeper into the pit. Story Continued:

· The Petraeus Saga, Epitaph for a Four Star – by Col. DOUGLAS MACGREGOR, Ret.

When Major General David H. Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne Division met Lieutenant General William Wallace, commander of the U.S. Army’s V Corps on 27 March 2003 at a site near Najaf, only five days after American forces began the attack to Baghdad Petraeus and Wallace were deeply pessimistic. They concluded, “The war was in dismal shape.” Petraeus, an officer who had risen to Major General and Division Command with no previous combat experience, was deeply worried about the level of Iraqi resistance.

The fact that 3rd Infantry Division (mechanized), an armored force of hundreds of tanks and armored fighting vehicles was already 50 miles south of Baghdad and poised to attack the city did not seem to matter. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr. would have flown into a rage and fired them on the spot. Yet both men went on to four stars.

Was General David Petraeus the heroic figure his press releases suggested or a piece of fiction created, packaged and presented to the American people by the Bush Administration and its Neocon allies in the media and academia as the poster boy for counterinsurgency? Was he simply a world class aid de camp, military assistant and speech writer, a slick briefer who successfully cultivated dozens of Army four stars and political appointees on the ladder to four stars? Or is Petraeus simply the victim of his own press releases?

Consider these points: The Shiite dominated government of Iraq is not only more corrupt today than its secular Baathist predecessor. It’s also among the most corrupt states in the world, far worse than North Korea or Russia. And, unlike Saddam Hussein’s Iraq it is unambiguously tied to and aligned with Iran. In Afghanistan, Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) continue to run from fights with pathetic Taliban in bed sheets and flip flops and more Afghan civilians died during the 18 months of Petraeus’s “Afghan Surge” than at any time in the previous ten years.[i] How did these things come about? Who is responsible for this debacle?

How many times have Americans read the flattering assessments of Petraeus on the editorial pages of The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal or heard Journalists repeat Petraeus’s assertions of “progress” and “success” on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC? Whenever Petraeus wanted to show that his alleged “counterinsurgency” strategy was delivering significant progress in Iraq or Afghanistan, the mainstream media offered unconditional support for whatever narrative Petraeus provided.[ii]

Vacuous statements removed from the facts were routinely treated like sermons on the mount, “It’s about being comfortable with a degree of chaos,” he [Petraeus] said in the interview. “And the whole point is that I am comfortable with that kind of situation. What you want to do is constantly push the envelope in every respect.”[iii] Huh?

When the Surge in Iraq began, no one in Washington was interested in explaining why the world’s most powerful military establishment led by Petraeus was buying off its Sunni Arab opponents with hundreds of millions of dollars, effectively supplanting counterinsurgency with cash-based cooptation.[iv] When the Surge in Iraq ended, no one in Washington wanted to discuss why Tehran’s Shiite allies in Baghdad restrained their fighters, and waited until the U.S. occupation ended before consolidating their control of Arab Iraq. In 2009, an Iraqi journalist described the outcome in terms no serious observer of the conflict could ignore:

“Observers not steeped in Iraqi history might be bemused to find that six years after the toppling of a dictator, after the death of several hundred thousand Iraqis, a brutal insurgency, trillions of wasted dollars and more than 4,000 dead US soldiers, the country is being rebuilt along very familiar lines: concentration of power, shadowy intelligence services and corruption.”[v]

A year later, Al-Qaida together with its Sunni Islamist affiliates in Iraq was also making a comeback recruiting scores of Sunni Muslim Arabs to rejoin the fight against the “crusaders and the Shiites” by paying them more than the monthly salary they received from the Maliki Government.[vi] Petraeus had brought the country back to where it started. Members of the House and the Senate privately acknowledged Iraq was a failure,[vii] but this tragic outcome did not obstruct the Petraeus proposal to repeat the folly of Iraq in Afghanistan.

On 7 October 2009 before the surge in Afghanistan began, Marc Sageman, a veteran intelligence officer with years of experience in Pakistan and the region warned the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “The proposed counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan is at present irrelevant to the goal of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda, which is located in Pakistan. None of the plots in the West has any connection to any Afghan insurgent group, labeled under the umbrella name “Afghan Taliban.”[viii] Reason and facts took a back seat. Sageman was ignored.

A year later, when I asked a field grade officer in Washington, DC with experience in Afghanistan if the simultaneous departure of General Petraeus and Ambassador Eikenberry from their posts in Kabul at the start of the security transition and after two high-profile assassinations (Jan Mohammad and Ahmed Wali) would undermine the Afghan population’s confidence in the U.S. leadership, he answered, “Absolutely not! There is no public confidence to lose. Read the local media translated every day in open source.gov. The matter is absolutely irrelevant to the population-Uzbek, Tajik, Huzzara or Pashtun.”[ix]

Sadly, what happened in Afghanistan was also irrelevant to the American people. By now, Americans had figured out that large-scale U.S. military occupations of non-Western societies to transform them into images of the West inevitably provoke resentment and breed violence; even when the U.S. pays $25 million a month in hard cash to its enemies not to fight.

Why did these things happen?

The short answer involves the skillful use of data and information to create a false picture of military action in faraway places. It’s not a new practice,[x] but in Iraq, Petraeus elevated it to an art form. With the backing of the Bush Administration, Petraeus created a narrative based on the illusion the he, David Petraeus, had “discovered” a military solution to Iraq’s societal misery in the form of counterinsurgency.

Secretary of State Dean Acheson said it best, “Americans are suckers for good news.” And P.T. Barnum insisted, “A sucker is born every minute.” Both were right.

However, in Afghanistan, Petraeus overestimated his ability to control the narrative even with a friendly U.S. press. True, the chronic absence of accountability for lost funds and failed nation building projects persisted as they did in Iraq,[xi] but when Marjah, the alleged test case for the Afghan Surge faltered badly, IED strikes multiplied and U.S. casualties rose, the Afghan narrative fell apart.[xii] Unfortunately for General Stanley McChrystal, he arrived in Kabul just in time to embrace Petraeus’s false counterinsurgency strategy and supporting narrative, an act that brought him down as much as any imprudent remarks he made under the influence.

When Petraeus finally left joined the CIA, a place from which he could direct black operations that are largely unmonitored and uncontrolled by the president and congress, Americans simply tuned out operations in Afghanistan that were going nowhere. If such disastrous leadership did not result in the pointless loss of American life in uniform,[xiii] undermine American strategic interests abroad, and empty the U.S. Treasury of its hard earned tax dollars,[xiv] it would almost be comedic.

Of course, these observations still don’t completely explain the meteoric rise of Dave Petraeus, or how his carefully crafted image swayed American public opinion. One reason is very that few Americans know much about the military. Most are conditioned to see generals through the prism of Hollywood films. They are easily persuaded that today’s generals are indistinguishable from the battle-hardened leaders of the Second World War or the Korean conflict. Nothing could be more inaccurate.

Directing air strikes, raids and patrols from the safety of the Green Zone, a place that compares favorably with any number of elaborate shopping malls and motels in the United States, is not waging war. Suppressing hostile Muslim populations that resent Western occupation is not the same as confronting the Waffen SS in the Ardennes or hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops on the Korean Peninsula. In Iraq and Afghanistan, there are no opposing armies, air forces or air defenses.

In truth, only a fraction of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who deploy, are ever under fire. Their courage and devotion are never in question, but confusing them with generals is tantamount to equating senators and Wall Street Bankers with American citizens struggling to survive the economic meltdown. In such an artificial war environment, sacred cows like Petraeus are never slain, they simply vanish.

In addition, Petraeus made a common mistake that is all too common in the Army’s four star ranks. He concluded he was the smartest guy in the room and he made sure everyone in the room knew it. Petraeus was always one of those guys who wanted to be a general for the sake of being a general and he was prepared to do anything to secure the stars,[xv] the product of extreme careerism coupled with the façade of false humility. President Bush and the Neocons in his administration needed a “hero,” an alleged “great captain” to make the case for victory in Iraq when there was none.

Petraeus was eager to play the role and, the otherwise unknown Paula Broadwell, a former Army officer and West Point graduate, was anxious to tell Petraeus’s story. Broadwell and Petraeus were simply two people with converging agendas.

Petraeus wanted a biographer who would cultivate the myth he worked so hard to create, someone who would glorify him, his “surges” and legitimate the Neocon policy of occupation and nation building with which he identified himself. Broadwell wanted the fame and fortune that access to Petraeus and his narrative would bring. Both got what they wanted, at least, for a while.

However, given that amateur hour in Benghazi is taking center stage on Capitol Hill, there’s little reason for the Obama Administration to keep up appearances with its generals. The latest revelations cast doubt on General John Allen’s future.

It turns out that in two years Allen sent approximately 30,000 pages containing hundreds of emails to Jill Kelley, a volunteer social organizer at the MacDill Air Force Base, in Tampa, and a bit player in the Petraeus-Broadwell affair. How many emails a day is anyone’s guess, but how could Allen have any time left over to focus on operations in Afghanistan when he was sending so many messages to the magnetic Mrs. Kelley!

None of the generals’ peccadillos is newsworthy, but for its commentary on the generals. The affairs are genuinely irrelevant. But the events demonstrate that the readiness of four stars like David Petraeus and John Allen to enthusiastically push utterly foolish and self-defeating policies conceived in Washington, DC is not the result of individual failures, but the crisis of an entire institution.[xvi]

Americans must wake up. The contemporary American military is not led by a Roman or Prussian class of hardened professionals. On the contrary, for the most part, the senior leadership is really an overgrown bureaucracy committed to jobs for generals. But these bureaucrats in uniform have gone too far. They are now responsible for the extraordinary loss of American blood, treasure, as well as, strategic ground in Iraq and Afghanistan at a point in time when the American people just cannot afford it.

Douglas Macgregor is a retired Army colonel, a decorated combat veteran, a PhD and the author of four books. His latest work, Warrior’s Rage from Naval Institute Press describes the generals’ failure in 1991 to exploit the victory in the Battle of 73 Easting and destroy the Iraqi Republican Guard.

Notes.

[i] http://www.afgnso.org/2011/ANSO%20Q2%202011.pdf

See the first paragraph on page 1, then, look at the charts on page 7 showing the overall trends in violence. See the graphic on page 8 and note the information on RC-Southwest (and, in fact, all of the regional commands). Page 9 provides a province by province breakdown. Once again, Petraeus and his staff did not tell the truth.

[ii] David Wood, “Auditors Despair over Pentagon’s Books,” San Diego Union-Tribune, 21 July 2004, page 1.

[iii] Yochi J. Dreazen, “The General’s Playbook,” National Journal, 30 October 2010.

[iv] Michael Vlahos, “Fighting Identity: Why we are losing our wars.” Military Review, November-December 2007, 7.

[v] Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, “Six years after Saddam Hussein, Nouri al-Maliki tightens his grip on Iraq,” The Guardian, 30 April 2009.

[vi] Martin Chulov, “Fears of al–Qaida return in Iraq as US–backed fighters defect. American allies the Sons of Iraq being offered more money by al–Qaida to switch sides,” The Guardian, 10 August 2010, page 2.

[vii] Daniel Tencer, “GOP congressmen: Everyone agrees Iraq war a ‘horrible mistake,” The Raw Story, 19 March 2010.

[viii] Marc Sageman, M.D., Ph.D., Testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 7 October 2009, “Confronting al-Qaeda: Understanding the Threat in Afghanistan and Beyond.”

[ix] The officer declines to be identified for obvious reasons.

[x] Robert Maginnis, “Distrust Corroding The Military,” Washington Times, 2 March 200, page 11.

[xi] Marisa Taylor, “U.S. Spending In Afghanistan Plagued By Poor U.S. Oversight,” McClatchy Newspapers (mcclatchydc.com), 15 January 2010.

[xii] Alex Strick van Linschoten, “Five things David Petraeus wants you to believe,” Current Intelligence, 22 November 2010.

[xiii] Pauline Jelinek, (AP), “Army’s Suicide Rate at 26-Year High,” Boston Globe, 16 August 2007, page 1. The failure to devise a more humane rotational system is a case in point. Jelinek writes: “In addition, there was a significant relationship between suicide attempts and number of days deployed’ in Iraq, Afghanistan, or nearby countries where troops are participating in the war effort, it said. The same pattern seemed to hold true for those who succeeded in killing themselves.”

[xiv] Paul B. Farrell, “America’s Outrageous War Economy! Pentagon can’t find $2.3 trillion, wasting trillions on ‘national defense,”MarketWatch, 28 August 2008, page 13.

[xv] Thom Shanker, “Concern Grows Over Top Military Officers’ Ethics,” New York Times, 13 November 2012, page 2. Also see:David Barstow, “One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex,” New York Times, 30 November 2008, page 1.

[xvi] LTC Paul Yingling, “A Failure in Generalship,” Armed Forces Journal, May 2007, page 27. Story Continued:

· The Supreme Court and Gay Marriage: Fearing Fear ItselfMichelangelo SignorileEditor-at-large, HuffPost Gay Voices.

It’s an understatement to say that there’s some apprehension among many gays and lesbians about the Supreme Court’s decision to take up the Prop 8 case. Forget what you’ve heard from gay leaders: They’re showing a unified front, particularly because it was Chad Griffin, now the president of the largest group, the Human Rights Campaign, who spearheaded the challenge to Prop 8 as co-founder of the American Foundation for Equal Rights. Gay leaders aired their public disagreements about the case back in 2009, when it was first launched, sometimes bitterly. The case has gone great, and that has melted away much of the tension. Still, though on the record they’re all on the same page now, and no one wants to cross the biggest and most influential gay group, privately the fear is palpable.

Legal experts expected that the court would hear a challenge to the rulings that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional, and most LGBT activists have been relatively comfortable that they’ll prevail on that case. However, few legal experts thought that the court would hear the Prop 8 case. The Ninth Circuit Court had narrowed the ruling to apply solely to California, giving the Supreme Court a perfect out to leave the issue of whether marriage is a constitutional right or not to another day, when there would be more acceptance of marriage equality and the court wouldn’t be getting too far out front. But the court defied the experts yet again.

Is the fear warranted? That’s a tricky question and depends on what it is you’re afraid of. Is it quite possible that the court will hand down a sweeping decision upholding marriage bans in over 30 other states, ruling that marriage is not a fundamental right for gays? Absolutely, and if that’s what you’re afraid of, then be very afraid. Such a ruling could have a broad and enduring impact.

From everything I’ve read, it seems more likely that the Supreme Court would hand down a sweeping decision in that direction than in the other direction: throwing out marriage bans across the country. Many experts seem to think that the court will do something more restrained: affirming the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, which would make it apply only to California, a state that had granted marriage rights to gays and lesbians and then took them away at the ballot. Alternatively, there’s the issue of standing, which the Supreme Court is taking up again. Do the Prop 8 proponents even have legal standing to challenge Judge Walker’s ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional, given that the attorney general and the governor didn’t file a challenge? If the Supreme Court thinks not, then the case goes back to Walker’s ruling and would not apply beyond California.

But none of us has any idea why the Supreme Court took up this case. It only takes four justices to decide to take a case. Did the four most conservative justices believe they could get Justice Kennedy’s swing vote? Or did the four liberal-leaning justices decide to take it up, thinking they’d in fact get Kennedy? Or did all nine justices believe they needed to take up the case for various reasons? We don’t know, and the legal experts have been wrong on this issue and many others, so don’t put much stock in speculation.

But I’m not afraid of the Supreme Court, and I am completely prepared for the worst possible outcome while hoping for the best. The court can’t hold us back, nor can it stop a movement, even if it becomes an ugly impediment. Public opinion is shifting rapidly, and the movement for LGBT equality has come very far in such a short period of time. Few imagined it would happen so fast, and if there’s a chance it may take longer by taking some risks that could bring full equality, I’m all ready for that. The alternative is to do nothing and continue without rights, perhaps indefinitely. Our current president supports full equality, and a previous great president, FDR, once wisely told Americans that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” That and the latest polling showing that Americans are with us should be enough for us to boldly move forward. Story Continued:

– This issue is driven by the legal community as a method to increase revenue for all the family-law attorneys. With the increase in marriages the end result will be the increase in the divorces. It is a commonly understood principle that the only people that win in divorces are the attorneys. PdC

· Chevy and the Argonne: The Quest to Create the Volt Battery

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The following is a sponsor generated post by Chevrolet

The simple brick building on Argonne National Laboratory’s 1,700-acre forested campus famous for its white deer population looks more like an outdated high school than a cutting-edge research facility. But inside the walls of this modest structure, located just outside Chicago, Illinois, scientists are working in a number of different labs (one so dry its humidity levels mimic Antarctica)–sticking their hands into aquarium-like “glove boxes” to manipulate chemicals; slicing electrodes, and performing all manner of other scientific magic–in their quest to create the best and most advanced battery technology to power plug-in electric vehicles with a gas generator, such as the Chevy Volt.

Argonne’s history is as ripe with mystery and intrigue as its present. Born of Enrico Fermi’s Manhattan Project–which produced the first atomic bomb–the lab’s work began at the University of Chicago on Chicago’s South Side, but later moved out of town to continue concentrating on its potentially dangerous experiments in relative seclusion. Since its beginnings in 1942, three Argonne physicists have gone on to receive Nobel Prizes for physics, including Fermi himself.

Today, the lab, which is managed by the University of Chicago for the Department of Energy, concentrates on projects revolving around energy, the environment and national security. It has received extensive attention in recent years for its advances in battery technology–particularly car battery technology.

These sorts of advances will lead to upwards of 70 percent savings in the near future, making electric and hybrid cars and trucks more affordable for more Americans, This will also mean more jobs and less dependence on oil.

Argonne has been working to optimize energy storage (via batteries) for more than 40 years, following the Arab oil embargo. For the past 15 years, their focus has been on lithium ion batteries, where the United States is competing with Asia and Europe for a piece of the business, which is expected to grow to $100 billion a year in the next two decades.

General Motors has helped America stake its claim in the global advanced battery race. In 2011, GM signed an agreement with Argonne to license the lab’s patented cathode material technology. The move furthered the automobile manufacturer’s role as a tech leader, pushing innovation and making breakthroughs that are changing the auto industry and society.

“The Chevy Volt is the first serious foray into the extended-range electric vehicle since the GM EV1 in the ’90s here in the U.S.,” says Jeff Chamberlain, the leader of Argonne’s Energy Storage Initiative. Because of that, the Volt has brought deserved attention to both American-made vehicles and American-made batteries.**

Named 2011 North American Car of the Year and 2012 European Car of the Year, the Volt is powered by two sources of energy: the lithium ion battery and an on-board gas generator. With the lithium ion battery, the vehicle can drive gas-free for up to an EPA-estimated 35 miles, while the gas generator produces enough electricity to cover nearly 375 miles on a single full tank.* Together, on average, Volt drivers who charge regularly are traveling nearly 900 miles between fill-ups.

Eventually, the scientists at Argonne hope to invent a battery that lasts 10 years and yields 200 to 250 miles per charge. That, says Chamberlain, could be 20 years in the future, and Argonne isn’t alone in trying to make it happen. “It’s a very vigorous, well-fought, aggressive competition around the world, in both academic and industrial circles–but I think more importantly in the national realm.” The result, he adds, could be a noticeable economic boom.

*EPA-estimated 35-mile range based on 94 MPGe (electric); 340-mile range based on 35 MPG city, 40 highway (gas). Actual range varies with conditions.

**The Chevy Volt is assembled in the U.S. of U.S. and globally sourced parts.

The trademarks mentioned in this story are held by their respective owners. Story Continued:

– This article was included for one reason. The Obama Administration pushed and spent considerable money on the stimulus for several battery companies in the USA with the HOPE that the electric market could be pushed into existence and they would be proven as truth Sayers with their goal of making the world more Green. There is an article listed above that indicates the battery manufacturer for the auto market A123 is being sold to the Chinese. Whenever governments try to implement market introduction products they fail more often than succeed. The stimulus to produce a battery for the electric car market is another example of the arrogance of the government getting involved in an area with no expertise. Thus the complete and total waste of stimulus money. PdC

· Why Is the Failed Monti a ‘Technocrat’ and the Successful Correa a ‘Left-Leaning Economist’? William K. Black, Assoc. Professor, Univ. of Missouri, Kansas City; Sr. regulator during S&L debacle.

The New York Times produces profiles of national leaders like Italy’s Mario Monti and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa. I invite readers to contrast the worshipful treatment accorded Monti with the Correa profile. The next time someone tells you the New York Times is a “leftist” paper you can show them how far right it is on financial issues.

Mario Monti’s New York Times profile

Rafael Correa’s New York Times profile

The New York Times’ slant in describing Monti as a “technocrat” and Correa as a “left-leaning economist” is typical of the dominant media. Monti and Correa both have doctorates in economics from U.S. universities and both have been professors of economics. Why does the New York Times treat Monti reverentially and Correa dismissively?

There are a series of factors that the U.S. media normally uses to judge relative merit among those with elite qualifications and national leaders. The media normally values most highly national leaders who demonstrate:

A track record of success

Courage and leadership in making the tough decisions that produce success

Rising from humble circumstances through hard work and self-sacrifice

Repeated success in democratic elections

Dedication to the interests of those with the greatest needs rather than to the wealthy

Bold, innovative policies

A track record of success

Readers of the Monti and Correa profiles would not be able to judge their relative success as economists and national leaders, but that is not because the facts are not readily available. Under Monti, Italy’s economy sank back into a serious recession because of the self-destructive austerity policies that Monti strongly supported. The “troika” forced Monti’s predecessor, Mr. Berlusconi, to adopt austerity and Monti doubled and tripled down on austerity. The largest banks then staged a de facto coup that forced Berlusconi to resign. The Troika pressured Italy to make Monti its leader without any elections. Under Monti, unemployment has risen to 11.1 percent and the unemployment rate for young Italians exceeds 36 percent. Many of Italy’s best and brightest emigrate as soon as they graduate. That means that the 36 percent figure substantially understates the extent of unemployment among young Italians because those that emigrate are not counted. The loss of Italy’s greatest asset, its already scarce young people will damage Italy for decades.

The Monti profile tries hard to make it appear that Monti led a successful campaign against German’s insistence on austerity. That is false. Monti did not get German approval to adopt the essential fiscal stimulus programs. Monti imposed serious austerity programs that had the effect he predicted — they increased unemployment, deepened the recession, and increased emigration.

Monti’s recent failures do not stand in distinction to much of his career. He deserves credit for his time as an anti-trust official, but his record on the key financial issues of his time is disastrous. He is a neo-liberal economist who supported Italy’s adoption of the fatally flawed euro design and financial deregulation and desupervision.

Correa’s track record is one of dramatic success. Ecuador did not fall into recession even when the financial crisis caused the Great Recession. This was a remarkable achievement, for Ecuador uses the dollar as its currency, has extensive trade with the U.S., and was harmed greatly by the fall in oil prices in 2008. Since 2008, Ecuador has demonstrated fairly robust growth of real GDP, substantially reduced unemployment, reduced poverty, and established a far more effective safety net to reduce misery for the poor. Unemployment in Ecuador (4.6 percent) is less than half of Italy’s rate (11.1 percent). Unemployment in Ecuador has been falling under Correa while it has risen in Italy under Monti.

Correa inherited a more crippling debt crisis than did Monti. He used his skills as an economist to devise a default on that debt and a buy-back of the debt at a dramatically discounted rate. He did all of this while producing robust growth. Ecuador was not frozen out of obtaining credit. Correa convinced China to loan money to Ecuador after the default to provide the credit Ecuador desired. He tossed out the World Bank (which warned him not to default) and took steps to maintain Ecuador’s reserves when the U.S. suffered the Great Recession. Ecuador lacks a sovereign currency it is potentially exposed to the bond vigilantes. This makes Correa’s success all the more impressive.

It is important to understand that Monti failed and Correa succeeded because Correa is a skilled technocrat and Monti is a believer in neo-liberal dogmas that have been repeatedly falsified. Monti is no more a technocrat than the medical quacks who continued to bleed patients in the late 19th century were doctors. Prescribing austerity as a means of “recovering” from a Great Recession is delusional — it is not economics. Paul Krugman has repeatedly emphasized this point in his New York Times column, but most New York Times writers cannot understand this point. Monti’s profile, for example, has this clunker about Monti’s appointment in November 2011 to run Italy: “But even the change in leadership — and a $40 billion package of austerity measures, including tax increases and a sweeping pension overhaul — has not calmed [financial] markets.” The writer is shocked that Monti’s promise to throw Italy into recession through self-destructive austerity has not “calmed markets.” It is beyond me why a journalist would think that financial markets (lenders) would be “calmed” by knowing that their borrower was about to go into recession.

The financial policies that Monti supported prior to the onset of the Great Recession were failures. His support for financial deregulation and de-supervision, the euro, and the efficient market hypothesis were further examples of theoclassical economics.

The Correa profile, however, begins with multiple efforts to picture Correa as the leader peddling dubious economics.

“Rafael Correa, a left-leaning economist, took office as the president of Ecuador in January 2007, becoming one of a growing number of Latin American leaders who came to power by running against the free-market policies backed by the United States and their countries’ traditional elites.”

I have no difficulty with using the term “left-leaning” – even in the first clause of the profile where it is obviously designed to set a defining tone of hostility. More precisely, I have no problem with it if the paper does three things: states its bias openly, acts consistently (e.g., the first line of Monti’s profile should describe him as a “neo-liberal economist”), and the article should explore analytically whether the “left-leaning” or “neo-liberal” approaches to economics has demonstrated greater predictive success in contexts that are the subject of the profile. The New York Times’ profiles fail on each of these requirements for journalism.

The Correa profile then compounds its bias with false statements and an analysis-free statement of great analytical significance. It falsely claims that Correa’s “left-leaning” policies are in derogation of the “free-market policies backed by the United States and [Ecuador’s] traditional elites.” I’ll begin with the preposterous assertion that Ecuador’s “traditional elites support “free-market policies.” The profile is a fact rather than an opinion column so making asserted factual statements that would cause anyone in Ecuador to burst into snickers is particularly egregious. Ecuador is a nation characterized by immensely powerful economic and political elites who have dramatic market power and often act in a concerted anti-competitive fashion. I did a recent column on how the managers that control their four largest banks acted in concert to attempt to extort the government not to increase their taxes and restrict their compensation. The very last thing Ecuador’s wealth elites want is market competition.

Similarly, the Washington Consensus’ policies of deregulation, desupervision, and privatization do not produce a “free-market.” In the U.S. we have just run a domestic experiment in which we implemented the theoclassical economic policies of the Washington Consensus. It proved massively criminogenic. The resultant epidemic of accounting control fraud hyper-inflated the bubble and drove the Great Recession. It produced crony capitalism — the antithesis of “free markets.”

Effective financial regulation, supervision, and prosecutions are essential to “free” financial markets. When cheaters prosper honest firms are driven from the markets, a point that the Nobel Laureate George Akerlof explained in his famous 1970 article on markets for “lemons.” He described a “Gresham’s” dynamic in which bad ethics drove good ethics from the marketplace.

“[D]ishonest dealings tend to drive honest dealings out of the market. The cost of dishonesty, therefore, lies not only in the amount by which the purchaser is cheated; the cost also must include the loss incurred from driving legitimate business out of existence.”

The results of our domestic Washington Consensus were so disastrous that they caused most of the U.S. electorate to repudiate the policies. The same thing happened in most Latin American nations because Latin America was the (failed) test bed for the Washington Consensus. The failures of the faux free markets in Latin America caused many electorates to repudiate the policies and elect leaders who promised to oppose the Washington Consensus. This is the analytics-free clause of the first sentence of the Correa profile: “becoming one of a growing number of Latin American leaders who came to power by running against the free-market policies…” The New York Times does not believe that the fact that Latin American electorates’ experience with faux “free-trade policies” produced such severe policy failures and revulsion for the faux “free-trade” policies that it led overwhelmingly to the election of leaders pledged to oppose those failed policies should lead us to reexamine the validity of the cynical label “free-market policies” and the actual impact of those policies.

Courage and leadership in making the tough decisions that produce success

The Monti profile is positively glowing about his courage and willingness to take on the powerful in order to push austerity. Here is one of key passages — see if you can spot the missing group in this supposed profile in courage.

“He said that his government of unelected technocrats was determined to force various entrenched interests — from labor unions to professional guilds to public employees — to give up their privileges, and that it was uniquely qualified to push through the changes because it had no natural constituency to protect.”

Note the not-so-broad range of “entrenched interests” Monti took on – all of them workers. Corporations, particularly the elite banks and banksters that drove the global crisis are the most destructive, most powerful, and most entrenched interests in Italy. Monti, however, is a creature of the banking industry. His father was a banker and he was a consultant to Goldman Sachs. He chose for his cabinet as his principal economic advisor the head of one of Italy’s largest banks.

Who were Monti’s key “unelected technocrats?” Monti assigned himself as the minister responsible for the economy. I’ve explained that he is the worst kind of failure as a “technocrat.” He knew better. He knew that austerity would hurl Italy into a gratuitous recession, but he imposed it pursuant to the theoclassical dogmas he venerated.

Consider the profile’s uncritical adoption of Monti’s claim that his government of (supposed) technocrats “was uniquely qualified to push through the changes because it had no natural constituency to protect.” We all understand why Monti’s press flacks pushed this meme, but I cannot understand why any sentient journalist would allow such a meme to go unchallenged. Monti ensured that his government was dominated by bankers, indeed executives and advisors of enormous banks. It is apparently credible to the New York Times that bankers have no “natural constituency to protect.”

The quoted passage was written after the movie Inside Job made a mockery of the claim that neo-liberal economists are devoid of bias and have no “natural constituency to protect” even though their funding comes from the Federal Reserve, industry, or the largest banks. Even if they missed the movie, however, the journalists knew that Monti’s claim was false. Here is the key passage from the Monti profile.

“Angela Merkel, found herself facing a tenacious opponent: Mr. Monti — whom Ms. Merkel had helped to install in office.

Mr. Monti has emerged as the uncontested leader of the “pro-growth” forces, and he has persuaded Ms. Merkel to take perhaps one of the largest steps toward European integration since the euro crisis began.

Mr. Monti came to Brussels with a simple plan based on the knowledge that Europe’s leaders could ill afford to come away from the summit meeting empty-handed. Italy and Spain, as he eventually made clear to Ms. Merkel, would block all agreements — including a growth pact that they fully supported — until European leaders agreed to allow Europe’s new bailout funds to directly recapitalize ailing banks, rather than going through the governments.”

What a series of pro-Monti myths concocted by his press flacks and accepted as divine truth by the New York Times reporters. Consider first the implications, ignored by the reporters, that the bond vigilantes forced out Italy’s elected leader and Germany determined his replacement. That is a remarkable and outrageous indication of Italy’s crippled democracy (Berlusconi and the power of the elite banks and bankers. Merkel chose Monti because Monti was German bankers’ favorite ally. (A nation that elects Berlusconi its leader already has a severe democratic deficit.)

Consider next the epic terms in which Monti is described in his New York Times profile. He is the “tenacious opponent” of Merkel’s austerity policies and the “uncontested leader” of “pro-growth” forces. The obvious problem with this Monti myth is that Monti imposed austerity on Italy and told the nation that there was “no alternative” to it. The reporters are using an Orwellian definition of the term “tenacious opponent.”

There is no “growth pact” — unless the reporters are adopting an Orwellian definition of “growth.” Merkel insists on austerity and insists that there is “no alternative” to throwing the Eurozone back into a gratuitous recession through her anti-growth policies. The reporters cite only a single achievement of Monti’s supposed tenacity: “European leaders agreed to allow Europe’s new bailout funds to directly recapitalize ailing banks, rather than going through the governments.” The reporters describe this in heroic terms as “one of the largest steps toward European integration since the euro crisis began.”

Inept “European integration” — the euro — put nations that adopted the euro at the mercy of the bond vigilantes, so there is no reason to assume that increased integration is desirable. Note that the “increased integration” is not a pro-growth measure. It is a measure to bail out banks. Indeed, it is a measure designed to bail out banks rather than provide funds to the nations that are suffering from the recessions. It turns out that Monti’s supposed act of valor was getting a more direct way for the Troika to bail out banks. The Troika had been using the member nations to launder the bail out proceeds to the banks. The Troika would lend money to a distressed nation with the understanding that the nation would use the proceeds to bail out the banks. The banks would then use much of the proceeds to buy the distressed nation’s sovereign debt. The Troika, the banks, and the distressed nations would then pretend that all was well and austerity was a great success. Monti’s monumental accomplishment is that the Troika can lend directly to the banks, pretend that all is well, and proclaim austerity a great success. Transformative! No?

But the Monti myth’s hype is not the critical analytical point that can be derived by Monti’s efforts to make it easier to bail out banks. The central point is that when one dispels the hype it turns out that the New York Times reporters knew that Monti’s act of faux bravery was making it easier to bail out banks. This means that the same credulous reporters, who accepted the Monti myth that Monti’s unelected government of bankers could be trusted to act solely in Italy’s national interest because they had “no natural constituency to protect” knew the claim was a lie. The reporters knew that the Monti’s paramount strategy was protecting his “natural constituency” — bankers — by making it easier to give them public bailouts.

Correa followed the opposite policies — successfully. He took on the wealthiest entrenched interests in Ecuador, particularly the banks.

Correa took enormous political and safety risks when he took on these entrenched interests. Whether or not the U.S. fomented the coups in Venezuela and Honduras, it has demonstrated its support for coups designed to remove democratically-elected leaders from power in Latin America if they oppose the Washington Consensus. The U.S. pro-coup policy has placed the lives of a number of Latin American leaders, including Correa, at great risk. Correa was the target of what he and many observers believe was an attempted coup by police officers. Correa was cut off, badly outnumbered, and surrounded by a large force of police officers. He responded to the police officers’ action by demonstrating exceptional courage. In order to defeat the attempted coup, Correa personally confronted the most aggressive officers and dared them to murder him in public. His courage helped defeat the coup.

One might think this pattern would lead the New York Times to laud his courage. Instead, the passage describing the event in his profile appears to be written to imply that the critical fact was that he gratuitously chose to engage “in a shouting match” with the police.

“That array of paradoxes reached a climax in September 2010 after the Socialist president proposed a raft of benefit reduction measures, setting off an uprising of police officers that nearly took his life.

The searing image left by the uprising was not that of the protesters but of Mr. Correa, who waded into the angry scrum of protesting officers at the police barracks in the capital, engaged in a shouting match with the police, opened his shirt and dared the officers to kill him. They nearly did.”

Rising from humble circumstances through hard work and self-sacrifice

Americans love rags-to-riches stories. Our elected politicians brag of their humble origins. Monti was born with the silver spoon. He was the son of a banker with the connections and wealth to attend top Italian and U.S. universities (his Ph.D. is from Yale).

Correa is the exemplar of everything the U.S. cherishes. His father was often unemployed. He worked hard and was able to get a doctorate at a fine, but far less prestigious U.S. school.

Repeated success in democratic elections

Monti was not elected. None of the ministers he appointed were elected. Monti was made a “Senator for Life” so that he could hold office. His popularity has fallen so sharply that his political opponents turned on him and he has announced his intention to resign.

Correa was elected in 2007, re-elected in 2008, and has a very large lead in the polls projecting that he is about to again win reelection. His electoral success is remarkable because he inherited the global financial crisis when he came into office and Ecuador had a recent track record of immense political instability.

“Despite the police rebellion and recent protests by student and indigenous groups, polls show that he retains a solid majority of support and is Ecuador’s strongest leader in decades. He has brought calm and stability to a country that had eight presidents in the decade before he was elected, and then, remarkably, re-elected, in 2009.”

Dedication to the interests of those with the greatest needs rather than to the wealthy

Monti’s austerity policies attacked the least powerful and least well-off Italians. His emphasis was on getting bailouts for Italy’s largest banks in the form of direct lending from the ECB (instead of indirect bailouts through ECB loans to the Italian government that would then make loans to the banks). That is the grand concession he obtained from Angela Merkel. The results of his policies are a deep recession, rapidly growing unemployment, increasing inequality, and growing emigration.

Correa’s policies have led to increased employment for large numbers of Ecuadorians, reduced poverty, and an improved safety net. The least politically powerful people in Ecuador now have political champions.

Bold, innovative policies

The profiles would lead a reader to believe that Monti exemplified flexibility and innovation and that Correa is the ideologue. The reality is that the opposite is true. Monti is pictured as the leader of a successful insurrection against Merkel’s austerity policies, but he lacked the courage to adopt fiscal stimulus and actually implemented the self-destructive austerity policies that Merkel insisted Italy adopt. Indeed, Monti famously misinformed Italians that there was “no alternative” to austerity.

The contrast between Monti’s timidity and Correa’s boldness is stark. Correa threw the World Bank out of Ecuador. He threw the U.S. out of its military base in Ecuador. He led the default on Ecuador’s debt and a successful buy-back of the debt at a huge discount. He arranged a large loan from China to provide access to credit. He imposed a tax on banks in order to fund an increase in social spending that helps the poor the most. He did all this in an environment in which he was risking his life because of the serious dangers of a coup and where most observers believed he was dooming his chances for reelection. Correa’s bold policies s have produced high growth in real GDP, significantly reduced unemployment and poverty, political stability, and strong political support.

Conclusion

Correa is the economist who has demonstrated the complete package: the head to get the economic policies correct, the heart to act on behalf of the people with the greatest need and the least power, the guts to risk his life on behalf of his nation, and the soul to take on the most powerful and entrenched interests in his nation in order to liberate his nation from their toxic grip. Correa is exceptionally popular with the Ecuadorian people and has won multiple elections.

Monti is the economist who has gotten the most important economic issues of his time wrong. He has worked on behalf of the world’s largest banks and banksters, the wealthiest and most powerful and destructive entrenched interests in Italy. His policies have caused increased unemployment, a gratuitous recession, and high emigration. Monti has never been elected. He was placed in power through the extortion of the world’s largest banks and intervention by Germany. The great majority of Italians oppose his rule and his policies.

So why does the New York Times continue to praise Monti and disparage Correa? The New York Times’ hagiographic praise of Monti’s purported act of courage – insisting that Germany allow the Troika to bail out Italian banks directly — is further proof of our family’s rule that it is impossible to compete with unintentional self-parody.

Readers, however, may share my belief that the supreme example of unintentional self-parody contained in the profiles is the related claim that Monti, an elite banker who used his power to ease public bail outs of banks, is a selfless “technocrat” devoid of any “natural constituency to protect” because he was unelected and appointed through a de facto coup orchestrated by elite banks and bankers. The New York Times accepted as gospel the claim that elite bankers like Monti are devoid of self-interest and do not protect the interests of the elite banks that provide him wealth and prestige and put him in power. The Onion couldn’t have written it better. Story Continued:

· Scientists May Have Finally Unlocked Puzzle of Why People Are Gay – Lesbians get it from fathers, gay men from mothers?

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Scientists may have finally solved the puzzle of what makes a person gay, and how it is passed from parents to their children.

A group of scientists suggested Tuesday that homosexuals get that trait from their opposite-sex parents: A lesbian will almost always get the trait from her father, while a gay man will get the trait from his mother.

The hereditary link of homosexuality has long been established, but scientists knew it was not a strictly genetic link, because there are many pairs of identical twins who have differing sexualities. Scientists from the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis say homosexuality seems to have an epigenetic, not a genetic link.

Long thought to have some sort of hereditary link, a group of scientists suggested Tuesday that homosexuality is linked to epi-marks — extra layers of information that control how certain genes are expressed. These epi-marks are usually, but not always, “erased” between generations. In homosexuals, these epi-marks aren’t erased — they’re passed from father-to-daughter or mother-to-son, explains William Rice, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California Santa Barbara and lead author of the study.

“There is compelling evidence that epi-marks contribute to both the similarity and dissimilarity of family members, and can therefore feasibly contribute to the observed familial inheritance of homosexuality and its low concordance between [identical] twins,” Rice notes.

Rice and his team created a mathematical model that explains why homosexuality is passed through epi-marks, not genetics. Evolutionarily speaking, if homosexuality was solely a genetic trait, scientists would expect the trait to eventually disappear because homosexuals wouldn’t be expected to reproduce. But because these epi-marks provide an evolutionary advantage for the parents of homosexuals: They protect fathers of homosexuals from underexposure to testosterone and mothers of homosexuals from overexposure to testosterone while they are in gestation.

“These epi-marks protect fathers and mothers from excess or underexposure to testosterone — when they carry over to opposite-sex offspring, it can cause the masculinization of females or the feminization of males,” Rice says, which can lead to a child becoming gay. Rice notes that these markers are “highly variable” and that only strong epi-marks will result in a homosexual offspring.

Though scientists have long suspected some sort of genetic link, Rice says studies attempting to explain why people are gay have been few and far between.

“Most mainstream biologists have shied away from studying it because of the social stigma,” he says. “It’s been swept under the rug, people are still stuck on this idea that it’s unnatural. Well there are many examples of homosexuality in nature, it’s very common.” Homosexual behavior has been observed in black swans, penguins, sheep, and other animals, he says.

Rice’s model still needs to be tested on real-life parent-offspring pairs, but he says this epigenetic link makes more sense than any other explanation, and that his team has mapped out a way for other scientists to test their work.

“We’ve found a story that looks really good,” he says. “There’s more verification needed, but we point out how we can easily do epigenetic profiles genome-wide. We predict where the epi-marks occur, we just need other studies to look at it empirically. This can be tested and proven within six months. It’s easy to test. If it’s a bad idea, we can throw it away in short order.” Story Continued:

· Appeals court overturns Illinois concealed carry law in gun rights victory

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SPRINGFIELD-In a huge win for gun-rights groups, a federal appeals court in Chicago Tuesday tossed the state’s ban on carrying concealed weapons and gave Illinois’ Legislature 180 days to craft a law legalizing concealed carry.

“The debate is over. We won. And there will be a statewide carry law in 2013,” said Todd Vandermyde, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association.

In a split opinion, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court ruling in two cases downstate that upheld the state’s longstanding prohibition against carrying concealed weapons.

Illinois is the only state with an outright prohibition on concealed carry.

“We are disinclined to engage in another round of historical analysis to determine whether eighteenth-century America understood the Second Amendment to include a right to bear guns outside the home,” Judge Richard Posner wrote in the court’s majority opinion.

“The Supreme Court has decided that the amendment confers a right to bear arms for self-defense, which is as important outside the home as inside. The theoretical and empirical evidence (which overall is inconclusive) is consistent with concluding that a right to carry firearms in public may promote self-defense,” he continued.

“Illinois had to provide us with more than merely a rational basis for believing that its uniquely sweeping ban is justified by an increase in public safety. It has failed to meet this burden,” Posner wrote.

“The Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment therefore compels us to reverse the decisions in the two cases before us and remand them to their respective district courts for the entry of declarations of unconstitutionality and permanent injunctions,” he continued.

“Nevertheless we order our mandate stayed for 180 days to allow the Illinois legislature to craft a new gun law that will impose reasonable limitations, consistent with the public safety and the Second Amendment as interpreted in this opinion, on the carrying of guns in public,” Posner said.

In a minority opinion, Judge Ann Williams wrote that Illinois is within its rights to ban weapons in “sensitive places” like government buildings, churches and universities in the name of safety.

“The Illinois legislature reasonably concluded that if people are allowed to carry guns in public, the number of guns carried in public will increase, and the risk of firearms-related injury or death in public will increase as well,” Williams said. “And it is also common sense that the danger is a great one; firearms are lethal.”

Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who was defending the state’s prohibition of concealed carry, remained silent on whether her office would appeal Tuesday’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The court gave 180 days before its decision will be returned to the lower court to be implemented. That time period allows our office to review what legal steps can be taken and enables the Legislature to consider whether it wants to take action,” Madigan spokeswoman Maura Possley said.

In 2011, gun-rights advocates lost a bid in the Illinois House to legalize concealed carry by a 65-32 vote. Seventy-one votes were necessary for passage.

The measure, sponsored by state Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), would have enabled Illinoisans to carry concealed weapons if they had a firearm owner’s identification card and underwent a firearms education course.

Under the failed bill, permit holders could not have been a patient in a mental institution in the previous five years nor have any felony, violent misdemeanor or drug convictions in the previous 10 years.

Concealed weapons also wouldn’t have been allowed under the plan at government buildings, courthouses, schools, sports arenas and stadiums, amusement parks, libraries or college campuses.

At the time of the vote, the Illinois State Police estimated that 325,000 people would taken advantage of a concealed-carry program, which was projected to raise $32 million annually for the state through license fees. Story Continued:

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· Michigan Legislature gives final approval to right-to-work limiting unions, sends to governor

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The Michigan Legislature gave final approval Tuesday to a bitterly contested right-to-work plan limiting the power of unions, a devastating and once unthinkable defeat for organized labor in a state considered a cradle of the movement.

Unswayed by Democrats’ pleas and thousands of protesters inside and outside the state Capitol, the House approved two final bills, sending them on to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. One dealt with private sector workers, the other with government employees. Both measures cleared the Senate last week.

At a Diesel plant in Detroit Monday, President Obama said “American manufacturing is growing at the fastest pace since the 1990s,” and credited the recovering economy in part to this boost.

Many are moving their assets to avoid the new taxes that await if Washington doesn’t strike a deal.

Snyder is expected to sign the measures into law as early as Wednesday that would make Michigan the 24th state with right-to-work laws, which ban requirements that nonunion employees pay unions for negotiating contracts and other services.

Supporters say they give workers more choice and boost economic growth, but critics say the real intent is to weaken organized labor by bleeding unions of money needed to bargain effectively with management.

“This is about freedom, fairness and equality,” House Speaker Jase Bolger said. “These are basic American rights — rights that should unite us.”

Democrats offered a series of amendments, one of which would have allowed a statewide referendum. All were swiftly rejected.

“This is the nuclear option,” Rep. Doug Geiss, a Democrat from Taylor. “This is the most divisive issue that we have had to deal with. And this will have repercussions. And it will have personal hard feelings after this is all said and done.”

Protesters in the gallery chanted “Shame on you!” as the measures were approved. Union backers clogged the hallways and grounds shouting, “No justice, no peace.”

Sen. John Proos, a Republican from St. Joseph who voted for the right-to-work bills last week, said opponents had a right to voice their anger but predicted it would fade as the shift in policy brings more jobs to Michigan.

“As they say in sports, the atmosphere in the locker room gets a lot better when the team’s winning,” he said.

In other states such as Wisconsin and Indiana, similar battles were drawn-out affairs lasting weeks or months. Wisconsin went a step further than Michigan, enacting legislation that stripped most public-sector workers of their right to collective bargaining.

Snyder, a business executive-turned-governor, and the Legislature’s GOP majority used their political muscle to rapidly introduce and ramrod legislation through the Michigan House and Senate in a single day last week.

Snyder insisted the matter wasn’t handled with undue haste and that right-to-work state was a long-discussed issue in Michigan.

“There has been lots of time for citizens to contact legislators and share their feelings,” he said in an interview with WWJ-AM.

In Michigan, the right-to-work movement gains its strongest foothold yet in the Rust Belt, where the 2010 election and tea party movement produced assertive Republican majorities that have dealt unions repeated setbacks.

Opponents said they would press Snyder to use his line-item veto authority and remove a $1 million appropriation from the bills, making them eligible for a statewide referendum.

Lawmakers who backed the bills “will be held accountable at the ballot box in 2014,” said Rep. Tim Greimel, the incoming House Democratic leader. Story Continued:

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What’s Up: December 7, 2012?

To read the entire article click on the title or Story Continued. Enjoy as the world turns.

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· Detroit councilwoman to Obama: We voted for you, now bail us out

The city of Detroit faces a major financial crisis and one member of city council thinks President Barack Obama should step in and help.

City Council member JoAnn Watson said Tuesday the citizens support of Obama in last month’s election was enough reason for the president to bailout the struggling city.

“Our people in an overwhelming way supported the re-election of this president and there ought to be a quid pro quo and you ought to exercise leadership on that,” said Watson. “Of course, not just that, but why not?”

Nearly 75 percent of Wayne County voters pulled the lever for Obama in November.

“After the election of Jimmy Carter, the honorable Coleman Alexander Young, he went to Washington, D.C. He came home with some bacon,” said Watson. “That’s what you do.”

Young served as Detroit’s mayor for 20 years and served as vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1977 to 1981.

The White House has expressed no plans to bailout the cash-crunched city that some experts say could run out of money by the end of the year.

The federal government has bailed out cities in the past, however. In 1975, President Gerald Ford extended more than $2 billion in credit to New York City to help it avoid a financial collapse. Story Continued:

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· Court casts doubt on Obama’s recess appointments – A federal appeals court on Wednesday questioned not only President Obama’s controversial January recess appointments but the entire system of such appointments, using oral arguments in a case to cast doubt on whether presidential powers can ever be exercised unless Congress has adjourned for good.

The case involves a challenge to Mr. Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board in early January — during a time when the Senate was holding pro forma sessions every three days, specifically for the purposes of denying him the chance to make those appointments.

Mr. Obama argued that since the full Senate wasn’t actually meeting regularly, lawmakers were technically in an intra-session “recess” and he could use his constitutional power to make appointments not needing the chamber’s consent. But two judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit questioned not only that move, but every recess appointment made other than during a traditional inter-session recesses that close out each year.

“Once you remove yourself from the principles set forth in the Constitution — inter-session versus intra-session — you are adrift,” said Judge Thomas B. Griffith.

He was joined in his pointed questioning by Chief Judge David B. Sentelle, who said the clause in the Constitution giving presidents recess appointment powers refers to “the recess,” which he said suggests the one at the end of each year, not the breaks Congress regularly takes for holidays, weekends or other reasons.

If the court were to rule that way, it would upset the balance that has been maintained over decades, and would conflict with another appeals court’s precedent — though that didn’t bother Judge Sentelle.

“Forget about a century of precedent — go back to the Constitution,” he told Beth Brinkmann, the Justice Department lawyer who argued the case for the Obama administration.

She warned that going that route would change the system of checks and balances fundamentally.

“There is a long, long history that would be disrupted, and also disrupt the balance of power,” she said.

She said there have been nearly 300 recess intra-session appointments over the last century, and both the Senate and the president have accepted them as legitimate.

The Constitution uses the words “session” and “recess” to refer to several different types of business and breaks. One use of “recess” is for a break from normal legislative business, whether for an hour for lunch or for several days while lawmakers go home. The other is at the end of each year’s session, when Congress adjourns sine die, meaning it won’t meet again.

That has produced two centuries of confusion.

Judge Griffith at one point questioned why the court should be involved at all in what amounts to a dispute between two other branches of government.

“Why drag us into it?” he said.

He also questioned the lawyers challenging the recess appointments, wondering why the Senate itself wasn’t contesting Mr. Obama’s moves. Instead, only Senate Republicans, who are the minority party, have sued. Story Continued:

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· “Fiscal cliff” talks frozen, Obama lobbies big business – With talks between the White House and Congress over a deal to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff” all but frozen, President Obama today turned his focus to the business community, urging attendees at the quarterly meeting of the Business Roundtable to help him lobby Congress for a “balanced” deal that includes tax hikes for the nation’s wealthiest earners.

Mr. Obama, who has recently redoubled his efforts to rebuild a strong relationship with the business world after years of tension, is currently locked in a stalemate with House Republican leaders over averting the so-called “cliff,” a series of tax hikes and spending cuts set to go into effect next year. The president insists he will not sign off on a proposal that does not increase tax rates for households earning $250,000 or more per year, while Republicans have repeatedly reiterated their refusal to raise tax rates.

So far, there’s little reason to believe a deal is in the works: The White House and House Speaker John Boehner each offered up plans reflective of their party’s ideologies, both of which were swiftly rejected by the other side. Moreover, as CBS News’ Major Garrett reported this morning, there were no substantive conversations yesterday at any level at all between the White House and Boehner on the framework for a deal.

In his remarks today, Mr. Obama attempted to win the Business Roundtable to his side of the political argument, outlining his opposition to the GOP proposal and essentially accusing Republicans of holding the global economy hostage.

“I am passionately rooting for your success, because if the companies in this room are doing well, then small businesses and medium-sized businesses up and down the chain are doing well,” he said. “Obviously the global economy is still soft. Europe is going to be in the doldrums for quite some time… Everybody’s looking to America because they understand that if we’re able to put forward a long-term agenda for growth and prosperity that’s broad based here in the U.S., that confidence will increase not just here in the U.S. but will increase globally.”

But, he argued, “what’s holding us back [from that goal] right now, ironically, is a lot of stuff that is going on in this town. And I know that many of you have come down here to try to see, is there a way that we can break through that logjam.”

“Nobody wants to get this done more than me,” he said.

The president went on to outline his objections to the GOP plan, which proposes to raise revenue by eliminating unspecified tax loopholes and deductions.

“We don’t have any objection to tax reform, tax simplification, closing loopholes, closing deductions. But there is a bottom line amount of revenue that is required in order for us to get a real, meaningful deficit reduction plan that hits the numbers that are required,” he said. “Any formula that says we can’t increase tax rates probably only yields about $300-400 billion realistically, and that’s well short of the amount of revenue that’s needed for a balanced package.”

Mr. Obama’s most recent proposal to stave off the “fiscal cliff” calls for $1.6 trillion in new revenues, achieved in part by letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire for the wealthiest Americans, as well as $600 billion in spending cuts and a handful of other measures. The Republican offer put forward a counter offer that is made up of $900 billion in spending cuts and $800 billion in new revenues achieved through tax reform that preclude rate increases.

“Speaker Boehner took a position I think the day after the campaign that said, we’re willing to bring in new revenue but we’re not willing to increase rates. And I’ve just explained to you why we don’t think that works,” Mr. Obama said. “We’re not insisting on rates just out of spite or out of any kind of partisan bickering, but rather because we need to raise a certain amount of revenue.”

The president also warned Republicans against embracing a plan to use a February battle over the debt limit to get their way on tax rates. “That’s not a game that I will play,” he said.

Even as Democrats ramp up pressure on Boehner to accept a deal including tax hikes, however, the speaker has so far shown few outward indications that he’s willing to defy the conservative wing of his caucus, particularly amid conservative criticisms of the plan he did offer up.

Boehner reiterated his call today for the president to officially respond to his proposal, and dismissed the notion that Mr. Obama’s re-election serves as a mandate on raising tax rates.

“If the president doesn’t like our offer, he has a responsibility to put forward a plan that can pass both chambers of Congress. We’re ready to talk with the president immediately about a plan that can pass this chamber. We’re ready any time he is,” he said. “We can’t… negotiate with ourselves.”

The Ohio Republican defended his plan to increase revenue by closing tax loopholes and deductions, which Democrats have targeted as, among other things, a way to get around raising rates for the wealthy.

“The revenues we are putting on the table are going to come from, guess who? The rich,” said Boehner. “There are ways to limit reductions, close loopholes and have the same people pay more of their money to the federal government without raising taxes, which we believe will harm the economy.”

Boehner did not, however, provide further details on which loopholes and deductions would be closed, nor did he say how such closures would add up to the amount of revenue increases for which the president is calling.

In the meantime, House Democrats continue to push Republicans to agree to decouple the middle-income Bush-era tax cuts from the high-income cuts so that low rates for all Americans aren’t held “hostage” in the fight over rates for the top two percent of earners.

“A good first step would be to pass the middle income tax cut,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters today. “If we can take the middle income tax cuts off the table, then we have ended the hostage-taking that Republicans have been engaged in.”

But House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., answered Pelosi’s cry with a firm reiteration of the party line.

An obsession to raising taxes isn’t going to solve the problem,” he told reporters today. “We can’t just keep borrowing money and raising taxes and expecting the problem to go away. That is our point to the president.” Story Continued:

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· DeMint jokes about firing Boehner after he quits Senate – Tea party leader Senator Jim DeMint joked about forcing John Boehner from the House, after DeMint shockingly quit the Senate on Thursday.

DeMint had been attacking Boehner, the Speaker of the House, on Tuesday, but now DeMint will leave his influential Senate post to run the conservative Heritage Foundation.

DeMint went on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show on Thursday afternoon, to explain his decision and take another shot at Boehner.

Limbaugh asked DeMint if Boehner had forced him out of office. “It might work a little bit the other way, Rush,” DeMint replied.

DeMint said his new job would be part of an effort to better market the Republican party to more people.

“It’s been an honor to serve the people of South Carolina in the United States Senate for the past eight years, but now it’s time for me to pass the torch to someone else and take on a new role in the fight for America’s future,” he said in a statement on Thursday morning.

During the 2010 election, DeMint helped tea party candidates get elected, and during the fiscal cliff debates, he’s been a very vocal advocate of a hardline policy of no new tax revenues, in any form, in a compromise bill.

But in the last election cycle, DeMint played a less-vocal role, especially when it came to criticizing less-conservative GOP candidates.

His move to the Washington-based think tank will position DeMint to advocate for conservative issues in upcoming elections.

“This is an urgent time,” DeMint told The Wall Street Journal in an interview on Thursday, “because we saw in the last election we were not able to communicate conservative ideas that win elections.”

On Tuesday, DeMint ripped Boehner in a public statement that many observers saw as a sign of a deep split in the Republican leadership over the fiscal cliff.

“Speaker Boehner’s $800 billion tax hike will destroy American jobs and allow politicians in Washington to spend even more, while not reducing our $16 trillion debt by a single penny,” DeMint said, in terse language usually reserved for Democrats.

Boehner is involved in tough negotiations with President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats over the fiscal cliff, a collection of legally mandated tax hikes and spending cuts that go into effect in January.

The House speaker has proposed $800 billion in new tax revenue, from savings on loopholes and deductions, as an olive branch to the Democrats. Boehner’s price would be steep spending cuts to social and entitlement programs.

Without DeMint within the Senate, Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have one less obstruction in their talks with the Democrats.

However, McConnell hasn’t publicly supported Boehner’s proposal, and many conservatives don’t approve any increase in tax revenues.

And DeMint isn’t leaving the Senate until January. Story Continued:

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· Pelosi Rips House GOP for Breaking

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi today ripped House Republicans for scheduling a five-day break amid the ” fiscal cliff” debate, asking why the chamber is not in session “trying to build confidence” and “find common ground” with only 26 days left until a mix of steep tax hikes and spending cuts take effect.

“Here we are, Thursday in December. The talk around here is what’s going on at the negotiating table. Is anything going on at the negotiating table?” Pelosi, D-Calif., wondered at her weekly news conference. “I can’t even explain to my constituents why Congress isn’t in session now trying to at least build bridges of understanding and representing.”

The GOP-controlled House concluded legislative business Wednesday afternoon after a light floor schedule this week. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor cancelled one day of legislative business previously scheduled for today, and also cut next Friday from the calendar. Cantor, however, announced Wednesday that he has added an unspecified number of days to the legislative calendar the week of Dec. 17.

“I’m really surprised that the Republicans would leave,” Pelosi said. “With all that needs to be done, [are House Republicans] avoiding the conversation? Sounds like people don’t want to be in town for some reason.”

At least one top House Republican, however, stayed at the Capitol: House Speaker John Boehner.

President Obama and Boehner spoke on the phone Wednesday afternoon, but no details were released about the conversation. An aide to the speaker said that “the lines of communication are open” today.

Pelosi, who said she remains in close contact with the president, has repeatedly described a Republican counter-proposal this week as “an assault” on the middle class, seniors and the country’s future. She also criticized the proposal for failing to detail how Republicans would specifically achieve savings if they refused to raise tax rates on the wealthiest taxpayers.

“Why are we not here getting information?” Pelosi said. “What are we talking about here? What are we talking about when we say restructure entitlements? What does restructure mean? Destroy? Wither on the vine? Voucherize? Or does it mean let’s work together to make these stronger and improve benefits for the beneficiaries?”

But with a stalemate on tax rates, even negotiations between White House and congressional staffs seem to have ground to a halt.

“It’s hard to explain to anyone why there’s even a mystery in the conversation that we shouldn’t be having the upper 2 percent of our population paying its fair share,” she said. “How do you start by saying we want to know what you’re going to do to seniors before we will do what we know we have to do, which is make the wealthy pay their fair share?”

Pelosi also doubted whether the GOP proposal, which called for $600 billion in health-care savings through changes such as increasing the eligibility age for Medicare, would create adequate savings.

“Show me the money. I don’t even know why that is something that people think is going to produce money. What are we going to do with people between 65 and 67?” she said. “It’s not even the right thing to do, first and foremost, but is it a trophy that the Republicans want … to raise the rates for the wealthiest people in our country?”

Lawmakers return to the House for legislative business Tuesday, three weeks before the “fiscal cliff” kicks in.

The Senate is in session today. Story Continued:

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What’s Up: December 5, 2012?

To read the entire article click on the title or Story Continued. Enjoy as the world turns.

· Tax hit men to track your spending

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Up to two million people are to have their credit files secretly checked under a crackdown on tax evasion to be unveiled by George Osborne to help raise another £10 billion.

Credit reference agencies will cross-check details of the income people declare on their tax returns against their spending patterns to identify “high” and “medium” risks of both illegal and legal tax avoidance.

People identified to HM Revenue and Customs will then be subject to more detailed investigations. About two million people are expected to be scrutinised under the programme, which may lead to privacy concerns.

HMRC will today unveil the “successful” results of a pilot programme involving about 20,000 people which will now be extended nationally.

Many of those who are expected to be identified are likely to be self-employed workers who have under-declared their income to the authorities.

However, those who have benefited from secret windfalls – such as an inheritance or a bonus – and people with secret offshore accounts could also be highlighted.

Mr Osborne is preparing to deliver the Autumn Statement on Wednesday, in which he is expected to announce another extension to the Government’s austerity programme. Spending cuts and tax rises are now expected to last until at least 2018.

The Chancellor indicated yesterday that he was preparing a new round of welfare cuts – and tax rises for the wealthy – this week. The renewed crackdown on avoidance is also expected to play a key role.

Treasury sources said that “hundreds of millions” are expected to be raised from the greater use of third-party data, such as that supplied by credit reference agencies.

Ministers also wish to encourage more whistle-blowers to come forward with details of offshore bank accounts.

Mr Osborne said: “While most taxpayers are doing their bit to help us balance the books, it is unacceptable for a minority to avoid paying their fair share.”

Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury, added: “It is simply not fair that at a time when most people are making a contribution to balancing the nation’s books, there is a small minority of taxpayers who try to escape their responsibility.”

The Chancellor will this week extend the austerity programme after admitting it is “clearly taking longer” to deal with the country’s debts than “anyone would have hoped”.

The credit-reference scheme is among a series of initiatives to be outlined today to reduce tax avoidance and evasion among wealthy Britons and multinational companies.

Mr Osborne will also announce an agreement with Switzerland which will give the British authorities access to the details of the offshore savings of thousands of Britons.

Information will also be routinely shared between the British and American authorities.

The Treasury is to provide an extra £77 million a year to HMRC over the next two years to increase its investigative capability. The “affluent unit” which targets the wealthy is to take on 100 extra staff.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary committee will today attack HMRC for being “way too lenient” in its treatment of multinational companies.

The public accounts committee will accuse international firms of “insulting” ordinary Britons by funnelling profits off shore.

Yesterday, Starbucks announced it had entered talks with HMRC about paying more tax in the UK following reports it had paid just £8.5 million tax on its British profits since 1998. Story Continued:

– How soon before Obama takes the European method to go after your money. PdC

· As Americans face a fiscal cliff, the Obamas make do with 54 Christmas trees

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Amazing how a reelection can reshape an incumbent’s thinking about many things. Now safely ensconced in the White House for 49 more months, the Obamas have decorated the place with 54 Christmas trees this year.

Even allowing for the usual Washington excesses with taxpayer money, that’s a whole grove of Christmas trees.

“We have 54 trees in the White House,” an excited Michelle Obama proudly told visitors the other day. “54! That’s a lot of trees.”

In fact, the Obamas’ 54 trees this year are almost 50% more Christmas trees than last year. That was during the campaign before Obama whispered a reminder to the Russians that he had to be careful until Nov. 6, when a victory would give him more “flexibility.”

Now, how much carbon do you suppose those 54 trees could be sequestering had they not been chopped by this green president?

And no wonder Obama talked over the weekend about addressing tax increases before any of that annoying business about cutting spending to address this thing called the national debt, now having soared past $16.3 trillion..

In addition to 54 Christmas trees, Michelle Obama has overseen the placement of thousands of ornaments in public rooms. Many of the ornaments celebrate the Obama family dog, Bo, who seems to have become the First Family’s favorite symbol of Christmas. Other decorations, including on the more prominent trees, were made by children in schools on U.S. military bases.

There’s several hundred yards of garlands and wreaths all over the hallways and rooms. And, of course, a traditional gingerbread house that has working chandeliers and weighs about 300 pounds.

Last year, according to Mrs. Obama, some 90,000 visitors viewed her White House decorations. The irony is this year the main residents of the White House won’t be there for most of the holiday period and for both major holidays.

According to notices distributed to residents of an exclusive waterfront neighborhood in Hawaii, they can expect to enjoy restricted access and other inconveniences to their homes and normal lives from Dec. 17 through Jan. 6. That’s about a 50% longer holiday vacation than last year.

The inconveniences stem from security requirements for the vacationing Obamas and a large number of their accompanying friends. Obama’s staff will have to put up with rooms in a nearby luxury hotel.

The Coast Guard will be patrolling surrounding canals. Navy SEALs will be doing whatever SEALs do on security detail. The Secret Service and local police will man numerous area roadblocks and perhaps even some bushes. Story Continued:

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· House GOP make a $2.2 trillion debt counteroffer to Obama on cliff

House Republican leaders have made a counteroffer to President Obama in the fiscal cliff negotiations, proposing to cut $2.2 trillion with a combination of spending cuts, entitlement reforms and $800 billion in new tax revenue.

The leaders delivered the offer to the White House on Monday with a three-page letter signed by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and four other senior Republicans, including Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the party’s just-defeated vice presidential nominee.

Republican officials said the offer was based on a proposal outlined by Erskine Bowles, the former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, in testimony last year before the congressional “super-committee” on deficit reduction. That offer is distinct from the widely-cited Simpson-Bowles deficit plan released two years ago.

The GOP offer is a response to Obama’s opening bid, which called for $1.6 trillion in tax increases and reducing the power of Congress to block an increase in the debt ceiling.

“What we are putting forward is a credible plan that deserves serious consideration by the White House,” Boehner told reporters in a brief appearance at the Capitol. He said he hoped the administration would respond in a timely manner.

The Speaker last spoke to Obama on Wednesday and indicated he did not plan to personally present his offer to the president. “I think the letter’s appropriate,” he said.

Boehner is scheduled to attend the White House holiday party on Monday evening. Asked if he might speak to Obama there, the Speaker smiled and replied: “I might run into him.”

The Republican counteroffer does not include an increase in the debt ceiling, but a GOP aide said the party remained open to negotiating additional borrowing authority for the Treasury before the end of the year. The nation is expected to reach its borrowing limit by mid-February at the latest. Story Continued:

· Obama Aide: With These Republicans, ‘There’d Still be Slavery’ Today – MSNBC host Chuck Todd reported that a “very smart White House aide” told him that “with this Republican, with the way politics of Washington are today, there’d still be slavery.” Watch here:

“You’re going to like this,” MSNBC host Chuck Todd said this morning on TV. “So, I threw the Lincoln analogy at a close aide to the president last week, and he said, ‘You know, with this Republican, with the way politics of Washington are today, there’d still be slavery. Lincoln wouldn’t have been able to navigate the polarization between the media between this–‘ It was an interesting and depressing observation from this very smart White House aide.” Story Continued and to watch the video:

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· Zimmerman’s Attorney Releases Bloody Photo

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Another controversy has been raised in the George Zimmerman murder case after attorneys for the former neighborhood watch commander showed a photo, taken by the Sanford Police Department, of Zimmerman bloodied in the face the night he killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

The digital photo shows a bloody-nosed Zimmerman with a scratch on his forehead as he sat in the backseat of a police car.

Zimmerman’s supporters say the photo backs up his claim of self-defense. He said Martin attacked him as they encountered each other in a Sanford subdivision, forcing the shot that killed Martin.

Martin had been staying at the home of his father’s fiancé in a gated community of The Retreat at Twin Lakes in Sanford that weekend.

While watching a game, the teen decided to walk to a convenience store. On his way back to the townhome, Martin was spotted by Zimmerman, the leader of the community’s neighborhood watch.

Zimmerman followed and confronted Martin, despite being warned by a police dispatcher that officers had been called and that he did not need to approach the teen.

Martin and Zimmerman reportedly fought and Zimmerman shot the unarmed teen. Zimmerman claimed that he acted out of self-defense and is pleading not guilty based on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.

The black and white photocopy of the image was disclosed during discovery of the second-degree murder trial. A full color copy was later located and shared on the internet.

The date for Zimmerman’s trail is set for June 10, 2013. A status hearing is set for December 10. Story Continued:

· Change on veterans’ gun rights lights fireCoburn wants decisions by judge rather than VA for impaired troops

A major defense-spending bill hit an unexpected bump on its journey through the U.S. Senate over an amendment on veterans’ gun rights, which devolved into a heated floor debate and foreshadows a potential battle over Democrats’ vows to tweak the filibuster rules in the clubby, traditionally collegial body.

Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, wants veterans who have been deemed “mentally incompetent” to have their cases adjudicated by a judge — rather than the Department of Veterans Affairs, as happens currently — and argued that veterans who simply cannot support themselves financially are needlessly given the label and, as such, cannot buy or possess firearms.

“We’re not asking for anything big,” Mr. Coburn said Thursday evening on the Senate floor. “We’re just saying that if you’re going to take away the Second Amendment rights … they ought to have it adjudicated, rather than mandated by someone who’s unqualified to state that they should lose their rights.”

The late-night tussle served to pick at the scab of the ongoing debate over Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s bid to reform the chamber’s filibuster rules to place limits on the minority party’s ability to hold up debate on legislation, however.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, objected to Mr. Coburn’s proposal once he found out it was part of a package of amendments to the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act the body was to vote on.

“I love our veterans; I vote for them all the time, they defend us,” Mr. Schumer said. “But if you are mentally ill, whether you’re a veteran or not, just like if you’re a felon, if you’re a veteran or not, and you have been judged to be mentally infirm, you should not have a gun.”

After a similar plea from Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, and a warning from Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, that the move could embolden Democrats’ push for filibuster reforms, Mr. Coburn eventually backed off.

“There’s more here, frankly, than just a refusal to allow an amendment,” Mr. McCain said. “That is going to mean that it’s more likely that we have this showdown, which we think — many of us think — would be devastating to this institution and the way that it’s done business for a couple of hundred years.”

The quarrel over the broader bill and the filibuster continued on the Senate floor Monday when Mr. McCain dinged Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, when he alluded to Mr. Paul’s previous threats to filibuster the bill if there was not a vote on an amendment to ensure a trial to American citizens accused of terrorism. That provision was approved by the Senate last week.

The measure that sparked last week’s late-night imbroglio is also part of a still-pending sportsman’s bill that the Senate declined to vote on last week. Similar legislation has been proposed in past years, and a bill introduced by Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican, and Sen. Jim Webb, Virginia Democrat, passed the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs unanimously in September.

The debate on the measure should not be about gun control, but about veterans’ mental health, said Tom Tarantino, senior legislative associate for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

“If even one person will not go to seek the help they need and they fall through the cracks because we failed to remove the mental health stigma as much as possible, then we’ve failed,” he said. “Right now, what happened is someone pulled the thread of politics in something that should not political. And that thread’s starting to unravel.”

But Brian Malte with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said simply that if Mr. Coburn’s amendment passes, more than 100,000 people deemed medically incompetent would immediately be able to purchase guns. He also noted that the declaration is not absolute.

“There is due process,” Mr. Malte said. “Gun possession is allowed if competency is restored. It’s up to the professionals to make that determination.”

The 1993 Brady Bill established a five-day waiting period for handgun purchases, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ enforcement regulations declared that those deemed mentally defective could not purchase or possess a firearm.

The Department of Veterans Affairs forwards the names of those labeled mentally incompetent to the FBI for inclusion in a national federal database, barring them from purchasing or carrying firearms. Story Continued:

· IRS aims to clarify investment income tax under healthcare law – The Internal Revenue Service has released new rules for investment income taxes on capital gains and dividends earned by high-income individuals that passed Congress as part of the 2010 healthcare reform law.

The 3.8 percent surtax on investment income, meant to help pay for healthcare, goes into effect in 2013. It is the first surtax to be applied to capital gains and dividend income.

The tax affects only individuals with more than $200,000 in modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), and married couples filing jointly with more than $250,000 of MAGI.

The tax applies to a broad range of investment securities ranging from stocks and bonds to commodity securities and specialized derivatives.

The 159 pages of rules spell out when the tax applies to trusts and annuities, as well as to individual securities traders.

Released late on Friday, the new regulations include a 0.9 percent healthcare tax on wages for high-income individuals.

Both sets of rules will be published on Wednesday in the Federal Register.

The proposed rules are effective starting January 1. Before making the rules final, the IRS will take public comments and hold hearings in April.

Together, the two taxes are estimated to raise $317.7 billion over 10 years, according to a Joint Committee on Taxation analysis released in June.

To illustrate when the tax applies, the IRS offered an example of a taxpayer filing as a single individual who makes $180,000 in wage income plus $90,000 from investment income. The individual’s modified adjusted gross income is $270,000.

The 3.8 percent tax applies to the $70,000, and the individual would pay $2,660 in surtaxes, the IRS said.

The IRS plans to release a new form for taxpayers to fill out for this tax when filing 2013 returns.

The new rules leave some questions unanswered, tax experts said. It was unclear how rental income will be treated under the new rules, said Michael Grace, managing director at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP law firm in Washington.

“The proposed regulations surely will increase tax compliance burdens for individuals,” said Grace, a former IRS official. “There’s clearly some drafting left to be done.” Story Continued:

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What’s Up: December 3, 2012?

To read the entire article click on the title or Story Continued. Enjoy as the world turns.

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· Krauthammer On Fiscal Cliff Negotiations: “Republicans Ought To Simply Walk Away” – It’s not just a bad deal, this is really an insulting deal. What Geithner offered, what you showed on the screen, Robert E. Lee was offered easier terms at Appomattox, and he lost the Civil War. The Democrats won by 3% of the vote and they did not hold the House, Republicans won the house. So this is not exactly unconditional surrender, but that is what the administration is asking of the Republicans.

This idea — there are not only no cuts in this, there’s an increase in spending with a new stimulus. I mean, this is almost unheard of. What do they expect? They obviously expect the Republicans will cave on everything. I think the Republicans ought to simply walk away. The president is the president. He’s the leader. They are demanding that the Republicans explain all the cuts that they want to make.

We had that movie a year-and-a-half ago where Paul Ryan presented a budget, a serious real budget with real cuts. Obama was supposed to given a speech where he would respond with a counter offer. And what did he do? He gave a speech where he had Ryan sitting in the front row. He called the Ryan proposal un-American, insulted him, offered nothing, and ran on Mediscare in the next 18 months.

And they expect the Republicans are going to do this again? The Republicans are going to walk on this. And I think they have leverage. Yes, for Congressional Democrats it will help them in the future if Republicans absorb the blame because we will have a recession. But Obama is not running again unlike the Congressional Democrats. He’s going to have a recession, 9% unemployment, 2 million more unemployed, and a second term that’s going to be a ruin. That is not a good proposition if you are Barack Obama. Story Continued:

· McConnell ‘Burst Into Laughter’ as Geithner Outlined Obama’s Plan – Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, says he “burst into laughter” Thursday when Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner outlined the administration proposal for averting the fiscal cliff. He wasn’t trying to embarrass Geithner, McConnell says, only responding candidly to his one-sided plan, explicit on tax increases, vague on spending cuts.

Geithner’s visit to his office left McConnell discouraged about reaching a “balanced” deal on tax hikes and spending reductions designed to prevent a shock to the economy in January. “Nothing good is happening” in the negotiations, McConnell says, because of Obama’s insistence on tax rate hikes for the wealthy but unwillingness to embrace serious spending cuts.

Geithner suggested $1.6 trillion in tax increases, McConnell says, but showed “minimal or no interest” in spending cuts. When congressional leaders went to the White House three days after the election, Obama talked of possible curbs on the explosive growth of food stamps and Social Security disability payments. But since Geithner didn’t mention them, those reductions appear to be off the table now, McConnell says.

Obama is pushing to raise the tax rates on couples earning more than $250,000 and individuals earning more than $200,000. But those wouldn’t produce revenues anywhere near $1.6 trillion over a decade.

The “guess” of those involved in the negotiations, Politico reported, is that a bipartisan deal “will include a rate hike, higher taxes on carried interest and probably capital gains and dividends, and either a cap on total deductions for rich people or some form of a minimum tax rate for them.”

House speaker John Boehner said today that nothing has been agreed to. “No substantive progress has been made.” Besides raising taxes, Geithner was reported to have proposed a one-year delay in scheduled $1.2 trillion spending cuts to defense and domestic, and a $400 billion reduction in Medicare funding. The $1.2 trillion in cuts was mandated after Congress failed to reach an agreement in 2011 on reductions.

Obama has talked up what he calls a “balanced” approach to averting the fiscal cliff of tax hikes and spending cuts in January. But he’s offered few specifics on the spending side. Story Continued:

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· Obama Warns Congress: “I’ve Been Keeping My Own Naughty And Nice List – “Joe Biden was in Costco and he wanted to buy some of this stuff, but I told him he had too much work to do. I wasn’t going to have him building roller coasters all day long. Now, of course, Santa delivers everywhere. I’ve been keeping my own naughty and nice list for Washington, so you should keep your eye on who gets some K’NEX this year. There are going to be some members of Congress who get them, and some who don’t,” President Obama said Friday at a rally where he pushed Congress to avoid the fiscal cliff. Story Continued:

· Why Obama is pushing for stimulus in ‘fiscal cliff’ deal

President Obama’s opening offer in ‘fiscal cliff’ talks includes $255 billion in stimulus spending – tax cuts, incentives, and more. It could be a bargaining ploy or a bid to offset rising taxes on the rich.

How about a little government economic stimulus?

That may sound incongruous considering the budget deficit and the push from Republicans to cut government spending.

But President Obama’s first offer to avoid going over the “fiscal cliff” holds out the hope of at least some stimulus. This would include extending the 2 percentage point Social Security payroll tax cut, boosting a tax incentive to businesses, establishing a $50 billion bank for long-term infrastructure projects, and extending unemployment benefits.

RECOMMENDED: ‘Fiscal cliff’ 101: 5 basic questions answered

The total bill: about $255 billion out of the federal government’s pocket – an amount the GOP would likely say needs to be offset by spending cuts elsewhere.

The argument in favor of such stimulus? The tax measures, at least, could minimize the drag on the economy from Mr. Obama’s proposed tax increases on the wealthy.

“The increases in the top two income tax brackets would put a drag on consumption, so I think, from the Obama point of view, the spending or tax cuts are designed to offset that drag to consumption,” says Michael Brown, an economist at Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, N.C.

But to some budget experts, Obama’s list seems more like an opening round of negotiations, where he has asked for a lot more than he will get.

“It looks to me like these are bargaining chips,” says Pete Davis of Davis Capital Ideas, which advises Wall Street firms. “Even most Democrats had given up on the prospect of getting the payroll tax cut extended.”

Mr. Davis considers the odds of most of the stimulus proposals passing Congress “very low.”

What’s needed most, say others, is just buckling down and negotiating an end to the fiscal cliff. “Cancelling the fiscal cliff is economic stimulus,” says Stan Collender, a budget expert and partner at Qorvis Communications in Washington.

If Obama’s stimulus were passed, however, here is a look at the impact the four elements might have.

SOCIAL SECURITY PAYROLL TAX CUT

The largest chunk of the Obama plan is the extension of the payroll tax cut. This is the money that comes out of an individual’s paycheck as a contribution to Social Security. Two years ago, in an effort to stimulate the economy, Congress decreased the individual contribution from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent. The employer’s contribution of 6.2 percent remained unchanged.

The Obama administration estimates extending the cuts would cost the government as much as $115 billion in revenue.

The argument for extending the tax cut is that it helps lower-income workers who live paycheck to paycheck. “The difference in the paycheck might be the ability to pay the electric bill for someone or the chance to go to a sit-down restaurant once a month,” says Chris Christopher, an economist at IHS in Lexington, Mass.

The argument against continuing the cut is that it is weakening the Social Security Trust Fund. In order to make up for the loss of contributions, the government taps the general tax revenues, says Pamela Tainter-Causey, a spokeswoman for the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

“It sets up Social Security to compete for funding from the general fund,” she says. “It’s a perfect set up for people who are gunning for the program and claim we can’t afford it now.”

BUSINESS TAX INCENTIVE

The second largest program proposed by Obama would be the extension of accelerated depreciation for business, which would cost the US Treasury about $65 billion in fiscal year 2013, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Two years ago, business was allowed to accelerate the write-off of 100 percent of its spending on certain capital equipment. Capital spending on equipment and computer software soared by 18.3 percent in 2011.

Then, this year, the benefit to business was cut in half to 50 percent. Capital spending sank in the third quarter by 2.7 percent compared with the same quarter the prior year. With business interest in using the tax break diminishing, economist Gregory Daco of IHS says “it’s a goner.”

INFRASTRUCTURE BANK

Obama has also proposed a $50 billion infrastructure bank. The idea is to fund roads, bridges, tunnels and other large projects that last for a long period of time. “At the moment the funding is done on a cash basis – you have to pay for it as you build it,” says Mr. Collender.

Democrats have been trying to get Congress to fund the bank for the past 10 years, he says. “It does not have a chance of getting through the House,” which is controlled by the Republicans, says Mr. Collender.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

And, finally, Obama wants to extend unemployment benefits, which would cost about $30 billion.

Under current law, if Congress does nothing, the maximum number of weeks in which an individual could receive jobless will drop to 26 from the current 73 weeks for states with unemployment over 9 percent and 63 weeks for states with unemployment over 7 percent.

If Congress does nothing about the program during the lame-duck session, some 2.1 million jobless will lose their benefits in the first week of January, says Judy Conti, a federal advocacy coordinator at the National Employment Law Project (NELP) in Washington. By the end of the March, she says, another 900,000 people will lose their benefits.

“Forty percent of the unemployed are long term unemployed,” she says. “They have been out of the workforce for over six months.” Story Continued:

· Russia forced to deny Vladimir Putin’s health is preventing him from working

Vladimir Putin’s health is not preventing him from working or travelling, his spokesman has insisted, after claims that the Kremlin cancelled upcoming talks with the Japanese prime minister.

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Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the visit of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to Moscow was “never scheduled definitively” and expressed hope it will occur in January.

“We hope that this visit will take place and assume that it will happen in the second half of January,” Mr Peskov told the ITAR-TASS news agency.

A Japanese government source told AFP that Russian officials informed the Japanese side of the cancellation of the meeting due to Mr Putin’s unspecified health problem.

Media in Japan also said that a mayor of a north Japanese town quoted Prime Minister Noda as saying “President Putin’s health condition is bad.”

Mr Peskov – who has repeatedly denied rumors that Mr Putin is suffering from a back injury – also gave an interview to tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, calling the rumors “blown out of proportion.”

“He is working as before, and plans to continue working at the same pace. He is also not planning to stop his sports activities, and, as any athlete, he may sometimes have pain in back, or arm, or leg – this has never affected his work efficiency,” Peskov said.

The globe-trotting Russian strongman, 60, travelled actively ever since embarking on his historic third term in the Kremlin in May, but has not ventured outside Moscow since an official visit to Tajikistan on October 5.

This week the Kremlin confirmed that Mr Putin will be visiting Turkey next Monday, December 3. Story Continued:

· Valerie Jarrett Heckled by ‘Climate Activist’ at Speech to Grassroots Organizers

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A top adviser to President Barack Obama, Valerie Jarrett, was heckled at a speech yesterday to grassroots organizers by a “climate activist.”

“White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett was heckled during a speech on Friday by an activist demanding that President Barack Obama do more to address climate change,” reports the Huffington Post.

“Jarrett was about two-thirds of the way into her speech at RootsCamp, a conference for grassroots organizers being held in Washington, D.C., when Brad Johnson, campaign manager of Forecast the Facts and former editor of ThinkProgress Green, stood up and interrupted her.”

The liberal website reports that the Secret Service began to move toward the heckler before being waved off by Jarrett. The adviser to Obama reportedly has her own Secret Service detail.

After the speech, Jarrett spoke with the heckler and “told him the White House would be willing to speak more with him about climate change.”

“I stood up and asked Valerie Jarrett to have the president speak about the reality of climate change,” the activist told the Huffington Post. “This nation is facing a fundamental threat to its existence, and the people of New York and people all across America are already suffering the effects, the consequences of carbon pollution, and the president has been silent on that threat and is promoting an agenda of increased dependence on fossil fuels. Even with the aftermath of Sandy, the president has still been silent on the reality of this threat, and that silence needs to end.” Story Continued:

· Sneed: Hillary Clinton no fan of Susan Rice, prefers Kerry for State

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The Rice Report…

The big question: Who would Secretary of State Hillary Clinton like to get her job?

It ain’t embattled U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who is dealing with the way she handled the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that led to the killing of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Sneed is told if Hillary had to choose between Rice and U.S. Sen. John Kerry, who is head of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, she would prefer Kerry.

“Hillary is not close to Rice, who is tough — but is not the friendliest person,” said a top White House source. “And Hillary’s brief comment recently that Rice had done ‘a great job’ was considered underwhelming and tepid,” the source added.

“It would be hard for President Obama to back away from Rice, but he’s dealing with what’s known as “the Club of the Senate,” which includes powerful U.S. Sen. John McCain — a Republican — who is adamantly against Rice and a big supporter of Kerry’s. Story Continued:

· NYC’s famous Stage Deli closes, owner cites rent

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The famous Stage Deli in Manhattan has closed. Visitors on Friday were greeted with a hand-written sign on the door that said “Thanks for 75 years!”

The deli, on Seventh Avenue near 54th Street, got its start 75 years ago. It was known for overstuffed sandwiches named for celebrities.

It was popular with Broadway audiences.

Co-owner Paul Zolenge says the dining landmark had been struggling for some time.

He told The New York Times that yet another rent increase was expected when the lease ended in a few months. Story Continued:

· Prince William and Kate Middleton Expecting First Child

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Kate Middleton is pregnant.

The most eagerly awaited pregnancy was announced today by St. James Palace on behalf of Middleton and her husband Prince William.

The child, whether boy or girl, will eventually be heir to the British throne according to new legislation awaiting final approval.

The duchess was admitted to King Edward VII Hospital today in central London with hyperemesis gravidarum, an acute morning sickness which requires supplementary hydration and nutrients, the palace said.

“As the pregnancy is in its very early stages, Her Royal Highness is expected to stay in hospital for several days and will require a period of rest thereafter,” the statement said. The royal family was clearly delighted with the news.

“Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are very pleased to announce that The Duchess of Cambridge is expecting a baby,” the palace said in a statement today. “The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, The Prince of Wales, The Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Harry and members of both families are delighted with the news.”

The baby will be the queen’s third great-grandchild.

Robert Lacey, author of the definitive book “Majesty” said, “The British public and indeed the whole world will be delighted for the same, it keeps the monarchy going. The royal wedding brought a magic back to the monarchy and people are fascinated by William and Catherine.”

The announcement follows relentless public and media speculation about when Prince William and his wife would have an heir. The guessing game began almost immediately after the couple said, “I do.”

Tabloids began snapping close-ups of Middleton’s stomach for any indication of a baby bump. Baby rumors abounded when the duchess held a baby at a press event and when she declined peanut butter at another event. British physicians are known to warn women against eating peanuts during pregnancy. When the couple got a dog, Lupo, headlines wondered if they were practicing for another addition to the family.

The palace, which rarely comments on speculation, took the unusual step of saying, “We would be the ones to make the announcement, not Hollywood.”

“It is quite strange reading about it, but I try not to let it bother me,” Prince William said in an interview with ABC News’ Katie Couric in May 2012. “I’m just very keen to have a family and both Catherine and I are looking forward to having a family in the future.”

Asked by Couric if there was anything else he wanted to share, he coyly answered, “You won’t get anything out of me. Tight lipped.”

Due to a dramatic change in the rules of succession, the royal couple’s first-born will likely be the heir to the throne, regardless of the baby’s gender.

Last year, the heads of 16 Commonwealth countries agreed to a change in the rules of succession so that first-born children of either gender can take the throne. Queen Elizabeth II was only eligible to be monarch because her father had no male children. The British Parliament must still amend existing law to make the succession change official.

“Put simply, if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were to have a little girl, that girl would one day be our queen,” British Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters in 2011.

Royal babies have typically been born within one year of marriage. Princess Diana gave birth to William just 11 months after her wedding and the queen gave birth to Prince Charles six days before her first wedding anniversary.

Prince William and Kate were married on April 29, 2011.

Click here for an interactive look at William and Kate’s love story.

William, who has long been known for making privacy a priority, will now be faced with the inevitable fascination with his first child. And the scrutiny will doubtless be familiar to him.

From his infant trip to Australia with his mother to his graduation from St. Andrews University, William’s life was filled with photo ops.

“We have a paradox here. William loathes the press and exposure to the publicity. On the other hand, Diana exposed both sons at an early age. They are immensely assured young men,” Lacey said. “While he may want to keep his children out the limelight, as a modern monarch he knows he has to deal with the media.”

Now, the name guessing game begins.

“They’ll stick to traditional names,” Lacey predicts. “William has a great sense of history from working with his grandmother. The queen would have him over for tea to teach him about history and the workings of the monarchy.”

It’s typical for royals to have three or four names. Prince William’s full name is William Arthur Philip Louis.

“If it’s a girl it’s not likely to be called Diana,” Lacey said. “But you’re very likely to see Diana in one of the middle names. You might very likely get Elizabeth Diana something. It shows the bravery with which he’s kept his mother’s memory alive, right down to the ring on Kate’s finger.” Story Continued:

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