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All against Cain: Upstart targeted in GOP debate

In News, Politics, Republican on October 19, 2011 at 9:02 am
Caricatures: GOP Presidential Debate Participants

Image by DonkeyHotey via Flickr


Republican presidential contenders attacked upstart Herman Cain‘s economic plan as a tax increase waiting to happen Tuesday night, moving swiftly in a fiery campaign debate to blunt the former businessman’s unlikely rise in the race for the party’s nomination.

Old animosities flared, too, as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry swapped criticism in unusually personal terms. “You have a problem with allowing someone to finish speaking,” Romney declared as the two men interrupted one another repeatedly in a disagreement over immigration, one of several vigorous clashes they had.

In a bow to Nevada voters, who will be among the first to choose among the candidates early next year, no one said he wanted to open a proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in a remote part of the state.

The fifth debate in six weeks ranged over familiar and contentious territory — from immigration and health care to the economy and energy, often in antagonistic terms. The candidates engaged each other more directly and sometimes more heatedly than in previous debates.

Romney’s Mormon faith also came up, and Perry said he disagreed with a pastor and political supporter who described the religion as a cult. “I can’t apologize any more than that,” the Texan said.

“That’s fine,” responded Romney.

But Cain’s unlikely rise from asterisk in the polls to contender was clearly on the minds of his rivals on stage in a hotel along the Las Vegas Strip.

Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota led the verbal assault moments after the debate began, saying his call for a 9 percent federal sales tax would only be the beginning, with the rate rising later.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania wasn’t nearly as gentle, citing one analysis that found that taxes would go up for 84 percent of the nation’s households if Cain’s proposal went into effect. “We’re talking about major increases in taxes,” he said, adding that a single person and a couple with children with the same income would pay the same tax under Cain’s proposal.

Undeterred, Cain insisted the charges were untrue. He said he was being criticized because lobbyists, accountants and others “want to continue to be able to manipulate the American people with a 10-million- word mess,” the current tax code.

Cain’s proposal is for a 9 percent personal income tax, a 9 percent corporate tax and a 9 percent national sales tax.

The former pizza company CEO is the latest and unlikeliest phenomenon in the race to pick a Republican rival for President Barack Obama. A black man in a party that draws few votes from Africans Americans, he had bumped along with little notice as Romney sought to fend off one fast-rising rival after another.

That all changed in the past few weeks, after Perry burst into the race and then fell back in the polls. However unlikely Cain’s rise, Tuesday night’s debate made clear that none of his rivals are willing to let him go unchallenged.

“Herman, I love you, brother, but let me tell you something, you don’t need to have a big analysis to figure this thing out,” Perry said to Cain. “Go to New Hampshire where they don’t have a sales tax and you’re fixing to give them one,” he said, referring to the state that will hold the first primary early next year.

The debate was the fifth since Labor Day, and the last scheduled for nearly a month in a race that is fluid in more than one way.

While polls chart a series of rises and falls for various contenders — Romney remaining at or near the top — the schedule is far from set. Florida’s decision to move up its primary set off a scramble as Iowa maneuvered to make sure its caucuses are the first real test of the race and New Hampshire works to protect its half-century distinction as host to the first primary.

It was Perry who instigated the confrontation over immigration, saying that Romney had no credentials on the issue because he had once hired an illegal worker, the “height of hypocrisy.”

Romney denied the charge, saying he had hired a company to mow his lawn and did not know that it had an illegal immigrant on its payroll.

The two men talked over one another, and at one point, Romney placed his hand on Perry’s shoulder.

“It’s been a tough couple of debates for Rick. And I understand that so you’re going to get testy,” he said.

As Perry continued to speak, Romney stopped him: “You have a problem with allowing someone to finish speaking, and I suggest that if you want to become president of the United States, you’ve got to let both people speak,” he said.

On a more substantive level, Perry said he opposed repealing the portion of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution that says anyone born in the United States is automatically a citizen.

Bachmann, Santorum and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas all sidestepped the question.

Cain found himself on the defensive on two others issues during the two-hour debate.

He apologized for earlier remarks about building an electric fence on the Mexico border that could kill people trying to cross illegally.

And he said he wouldn’t be willing to negotiate with terrorists, even though he suggested he might be in an interview earlier in the day.

Foreign policy took a secondary role in the debate, and the new strain of Republican isolationism quickly surfaced.

Paul said U.S. troops should be withdrawn from Korea — where they have been stationed for more than 50 years — and foreign aid to Israel cut.

Perry said it was “time to have a very serious discussion about defunding the United Nations.”

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman skipped this debate, saying he was boycotting the Nevada caucuses in a dispute over the primary and caucus calendar. He is campaigning exclusively in New Hampshire in hopes of a victory that can move him into the thick of the race.

Not only Republicans, but Obama was also critical of Cain’s economic plan during the day.

In an interview with ABC News, Obama said it would be a “huge burden” on middle-class and working families.

Source:  Associated Press.



Israeli soldier ‘very excited’ to go home

In Israel, News on October 18, 2011 at 9:46 am
am 11 01 2009 — Brei...

Pro-Israel-Demo in Berlin ( Photo via Wikipedia )

An Israeli soldier freed after five years of captivity by Hamas militants says he is “very excited” to be headed home.

In an interview with an Egyptian TV station, Schalit says he was told about a week ago that he was being freed. He says he feared he would remain in captivity for “many more years” and remained afraid that “things may go wrong.”

Schalit said he missed his family and friends and now has a lot to do.

Israel’s army has confirmed that Schalit is now on Israeli soil, after Hamas militants in Gaza transferred him to Egypt earlier Tuesday.

Israel is freeing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in return.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

In this image from Egypt TV Tuesday Oct 18 2011 Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit is seen at an undisclosed location in the Gaza- Egypt border area accompanied by Hamas guards as he is moved in to Egypt from captivity in Gaza beginning an elaborate prisoner swap deal in which hundreds of Palestinian inmates are to be freed in return for the captured tank crewman. (AP Photo/ Egypt TV) TV OUT NO SALES

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s army spokesman says captured soldier Sgt. Gilad Schalit “has returned home” after more than five years in Hamas captivity.

Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai told a news conference on Tuesday that “Today, Gilad Schalit is with is.”

Mordechai says Schalit is being accompanied by senior military officials to a base, where he will undergo some medical tests and talk to his family.

Israel is freeing more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Schalit, who was captured by Hamas militants in June 2006 and held in the Gaza Strip.

Source:  Associated Press.


Republican Presidential Candidate: Herman Cain

At debate, focus is on fast-rising Herman Cain



Herman Cain has risen fast. Now the question is: Will he fall?

As Republican presidential hopefuls were preparing for a debate here Tuesday night, Cain has been facing more and more intense scrutiny as his poll numbers have jumped upward.

Now that he’s in the national spotlight, he’s already had to apologize for comments he made over the weekend calling for an electric fence on the Southern border with Mexico.

At a campaign stop Monday in Arizona, Cain appeared with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, an aggressive anti-immigration proponent. “It was a joke,” Cain said emphatically during a news conference. “I apologize if I offended anyone. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa.”

Cain told an audience in Tennessee on Saturday that the fence is “going to be electrified. And there is going to be a sign on the other side that says, `It will kill you.'”

Immigration already has flared on the campaign trail — and contributed to the sinking of another fast-rising GOP candidate. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has struggled to explain why he signed a law giving in-state tuition breaks to illegal immigrants at Texas universities. When he first entered the race, he was at or near the top of many national polls. He’s fallen back since, and Cain has emerged as the more popular alternative to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Also participating in Tuesday’s debate are Romney, Perry, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Missing is former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who’s boycotting the Nevada caucuses in defense of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. Nevada has scheduled its contest for Jan. 14, and Republican officials are pressuring Romney and other Republicans to join Huntsman’s boycott if the state refuses to hold the caucuses later in January.

Also potentially at issue on Tuesday is the foreclosure crisis. So far, it’s been almost forgotten on the campaign trail, but the candidates will probably have little choice but to address it. Nevada has the nation’s highest unemployment rate, a statistic that’s driving the highest foreclosure rate in the nation. It’s the root of the economic crisis, but it barely has been discussed as issues like immigration and vaccines for children have dominated the GOP primary.

Source:  Associated Press.





Obama seeks action on jobs bill pieces this week

In Barak Obama, Jobs, News on October 17, 2011 at 9:31 am
President Barack Obama addresses the House Dem...

President Barack Obama addresses the House Democrats ( Photo via Wikipedia )


President Barack Obama will urge Congress to get to work this week on passing pieces of his larger, now-defunct jobs bill during a three-day bus tour through North Carolina and Virginia, two southern states that could be critical to his re-election campaign.

The two-state swing, which kicks off Monday in Asheville, N.C., is Obama’s latest attempt to combine campaigning for his jobs bill with campaigning for his re-election. While he has pledged to travel the country pitching his plans to get Americans back to work, his stops have focused heavily on political swing states, underscoring the degree to which what happens with the economy is tied to Obama’s re-election prospects.

The bus tour comes as the fight over Obama’s jobs proposals enters a new phase. The president’s efforts to get his entire $447 billion bill passed were blocked by Senate Republicans, leaving Obama and his Democratic allies to push for the proposals contained in the bill to be passed piece by piece.

That means the president’s rallying cry this week could go from “Pass this bill” to “Pass these bills.”

“Although Congress is adopting a piece-by-piece approach, the president believes that every single piece should pass, and that at the end of the day we should have all of the components of the American Jobs Act passed through the Congress so the president can sign them, even if that means that he has to sign multiple pieces of legislation,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

Despite Obama’s calls for urgency, it appears the lawmakers may not take up individual components of the president’s bill until November, at the earliest. The Senate is set to debate appropriations bills this week, and lawmakers have a scheduled vacation at the end of the month.

Earnest said Obama wants Congress to first act on a provision calling for $35 billion in assistance to states and local governments to hire or prevent laying off teachers and first responders. He also wants lawmakers to pass $50 billion in new spending on infrastructure.

Obama’s stops on the bus trip are designed to highlight those aspects of his plan, including his first stop at the Ashville Regional Airport, where the White House says government funds could be used to renovate a runway and create construction jobs.

The president will also speak at community colleges, high schools and a firehouse as he travels through North Carolina and Virginia this week.

Both states are traditionally Republican leaning, but changing demographics and a boost in voter turnout among young people and African-Americans helped Obama carry them in 2008.

But nearly three years after his historic election, the president’s approval ratings in both states are sagging, in line with the national trend.

A Quinnipiac University poll out earlier this month put Obama’s approval rating in Virginia at 45 percent, with 52 percent disapproving. The same poll showed 83 percent of Virginians were dissatisfied with the direction of the country. In North Carolina, Obama has a 42 percent approval rating, according to an Elon University poll conducted this month. Most national polls put Obama’s approval rating in the mid- to low-40s.

The president will be ditching Air Force One for much of his trip this week, traveling instead on a $1.1 million bus purchased by the Secret Service. The impenetrable-looking bus is painted all black, with dark tinted windows and flashing red and blue lights. Obama first used the custom-made bus during a similar road trip in August, when he traveled through Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.

Source:  Associated Press.



Cain’s 9-9-9 Plan Gain’s Big-Name Backers

In News, Politics, Republican on October 15, 2011 at 9:10 am

Republican Presidential Candidate: Herman Cain

By: Martin Gould and David A. Patten

Herman Cain’s catchy 9-9-9 tax overhaul system is gathering major supporters as the former pizza magnate consolidates his position at the top of the Republican field in the race for the White House.

House budget committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan and Ronald Reagan’s economic guru Art Laffer both expressed their support for the plan which would replace the current tax code.

The anti-tax Club for Growth also came out in favor of Cain’s plan which would cut income and corporate taxes to 9 percent and institute a new national sales tax at the same level. Payroll, capital gains and estate taxes would all be eliminated under Cain’s proposals.

Eventually Cain’s plan calls for the complete elimination of income taxes – and the IRS – and the introduction of what he calls the Fair Tax, in which the all Federal revenue would come from a sales tax.

“I love the 9-9-9 plan, it’s a great first step,” Laffer told Fox News’ Bret Baier. “This is a lot better than our current tax laws that are filled with all sorts of ducks, chickens, pigs and turkeys. They’ve just got to be cleaned out and we’ve got to completely revamp the codes.”

Ryan didn’t go quite as far. The Wisconsin congressman did not endorse the plan, but praised it saying he loved “specific and credible” proposals.

Club for Growth president Chris Chocola called the 9-9-9 “an outline for a more prosperous and globally competitive America,” saying it is “both pro-growth and a good starting point on the way to a flat or fair tax.

“Eliminating taxes on capital gains and dividends and combining that with huge rate cuts in both corporate and income taxes would create an unparalleled economic boom,” said Chocola. “9-9-9 also eliminates the regulatory and compliance costs from the current tax code that suck billions out of the economy each year.”

Much of the criticism of the plan has been the idea of a new sales tax, which critics fear would be bound to grow. But Chocola dismissed those fears. “Of course a future Congress could raise taxes above the 9 percent levels, but under our current monstrosity of a tax system, Congress already can raise taxes at any time and often has. It is on a path to do so yet again next year with the expiration of the Bush tax cuts.

“Herman Cain’s proposal might not be the perfect plan, but it is a truly revolutionary tax reform that would amount to a massive job creating tax cut on investments, savings, and income.”

And Chocola issued a challenge to others in the GOP race. “Instead of tearing down ideas that would create economic growth and jobs, the other Republican presidential candidates should produce their own plans to achieve a flatter and more growth-oriented tax code. The American people deserve nothing less.”

Backing for Cain’s plan also came from Kevin Hassett, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute also praised the Cain’s proposal for moving towards a flat tax. “If someone’s going to attack the 9-9-9 plan, I would say they should be careful because you are talking about the Republican holy grail,” he told the Associated Press.

More equivocal support came from Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the former director of the Congressional Budget Office who advised John McCain during his presidential run. “I don’t think it’s dramatically out of line with reality,” he told Bloomberg.

And Alan Viard, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, which favors smaller government, said the revenue estimates were “in the ballpark in some vague sense.” But Viard said the rates might need to be a little about 9 percent to generate the same revenues as the the current tax code.

As Cain has risen to the top of the GOP field – he is now running neck-and-neck with Mitt Romney at the top of polls –his plan has come under attack. During Tuesday’s GOP debate former Utah Gov. John Huntsman joked that he thought it was the price of pizza while Spirit Airlines have mocked the scheme by bringing in a 9-9-9 plan for certain fares. Texas Gov.Rick Perry’s wife, Anita, said, “When I hear 9-9-9, I want to call 9-1-1.”

Others have even suggested Cain got the idea from the video game SimCity 4 in which citizens live under a tax code of 9 percent for commercial taxes, 9 percent for industrial taxes and 9 percent for residential taxes.

Cain’s case wasn’t helped when he refused to name his advisors, except for “Rich Lowrie from Cleveland, Ohio,” during the Dartmouth College debate. Investigations soon found that Lowrie is a personal tax consultant for a Wells Fargo bank branch in Pepper Pike, an affluent suburb of Cleveland, who has no training in economics.

Lowrie himself defended the plan on Fox News on Friday, claiming, “The economy will expand by $2 trillion, 6 million jobs are going to be created and the unemployment rate will come back down to a more typical or natural rate of 4 or 4 ½ percent.

“Wages are going to go up by 10 percent, businesses investment will go up by a third,” Lowrie added, saying those figures came from former Treasury Department aide Gary Robbins. In an interview with Politico, although Robbins praised the plan, he added, “There’s nothing wrong with the plan, it just wouldn’t be the one I picked.”

Lowrie said Cain had told his advisers he wanted a “simple, transparent, efficient, fair and neutral,” tax code, adding “I want to tax everything once and nothing twice.”

Fox News contributor Stephen Hayes, of the Weekly Standard, said he couldn’t understand why Cain had not mentioned Laffer’s name at the debate instead of Lowrie’s. Despite that, he said Cain’s plan is resonating with the public.

“The most effective line Cain had in the debate the other night was when he said these politicians are all telling you this can’t be done, well I’m not a politician and that’s why I’m making these arguments,” said Hayes.

“He’s really talking to a huge swath of the Republican primary base and Independent voters as well to say the politicians have handled this for years and years and years and that’s why we are where we are.”

Source: Newsmax.


Obama, Lee to pitch trade deal in Michigan

In Auto Industry, Barak Obama, Jobs, News on October 14, 2011 at 8:56 am

President Barack Obama offers a toast during a State Dinner with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in the East Room at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Fri Oct 14, 4:15 AM EDT

President Barack Obama and South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak are promoting a new trade deal by visiting an auto plant in Michigan, a state battered by Asian car imports, in a rare joint appearance outside of Washington by a U.S. president and a visiting head of state.

In choosing General Motors Co.’s Orion assembly plant for a post-state dinner tour Friday, the two leaders will draw attention to an aspect of a U.S.-South Korea trade agreement that had been among the most difficult to negotiate. Congress approved the deal Wednesday after negotiators overcame U.S. auto industry complaints that previous efforts at a deal failed to do enough to lift South Korea’s barriers to U.S.-made cars.

Obama is taking Lee to the heart of the region that has been hardest hit by foreign car competition, especially the influx of vehicles like South Korea’s Hyundai.

But for Obama, the trip is also an opportunity to highlight the auto industry’s resurgence after he engineered an $80 billion government bailout for GM and Chrysler in 2009. The Orion plant, about 30 miles north of Detroit, had been shuttered before the federal government stepped in and helped usher the two carmakers through bankruptcy protection. The plant now is producing the subcompact Chevrolet Sonic and will start production of the compact Buick Verano soon.

The Sonic, the only subcompact sold in the U.S. that is assembled in the U.S., is being built with Korean parts. GM began building the Sonic last year following an agreement with the United Autoworkers that allowed the company to pay some workers lower wages that are more competitive with those in GM’s foreign plants. The Sonic’s predecessor, the Chevrolet Aveo, was built in South Korea.

All in all, Obama could profit from calling attention to policies aimed at benefitting Michigan, a state that has the third highest unemployment rate in the country at 11.2 percent and which represents an important battleground in his bid for re-election. Obama won the state by a 57-41 margin in 2008, but could face difficulties in the state, especially if his general election opponent is Mitt Romney, whose father was Michigan governor.

The trip also serves as an opportunity to illustrate his special relationship with the South Korean leader. Inviting Lee to the U.S. heartland is an unusual addition to the itinerary of a high-profile state visit. The two men were expected to fly separately to Michigan; once at the plant, both men planned to make remarks.

Lee’s is the fifth state visit during Obama’s presidency, but the first that has included added travel beyond Washington D.C.

President George W. Bush was more predisposed to travel outside the capital Beltway with foreign leaders. In 2006, he invited Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, an unabashed Elvis Presley fan, to Graceland. In 2001, Bush took Mexican President Vicente Fox to Toledo, Ohio, where the two addressed Hispanic voters the day after their state visit at the White House. The following year, then-Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski accompanied Bush to a Polish cultural center in the Detroit suburbs.

In addition to the South Korea agreement, Congress approved free trade deals Wednesday with Colombia and Panama. The South Korea deal, which would be the largest since the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, still must be approved by South Korea’s National Assembly_ a vote that Lee said he was confident would succeed.

The South Korea deal alone could expand U.S. exports by $11 billion and support 70,000 jobs, according to the White House. The agreements would lower or eliminate tariffs that American exporters face in the three countries. They also take steps to better protect intellectual property and improve access for American investors in those countries. The last free trade agreement completed was with Peru in 2007.

Many labor groups opposed the deals, but the agreements won wide bipartisan support in part because their passage was linked to legislation to extend aid to workers displaced by foreign competition. Obama had demanded that the worker aid bill be part of the trade package.

Standing with Lee at his side during a press conference Thursday, Obama declared the trade deal “a win for both our countries,” adding that he was “very pleased that it’ll help level the playing field for American automakers.”

Still, five of the six House Democrats from Michigan voted against the trade deal, including Rep. Gary Peters, whose district includes GM’s Orion plant. Peters said Obama had helped make the deal fairer to U.S. carmakers, but said he believed the deal would cost jobs in Michigan.

The trade agreement comes as South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp. are on track to set U.S. sales records this year. Both companies build car and light truck models in the United States, but also export vehicles to the U.S. market.

Last year, the Ford Motor Co. ran an aggressive ad campaign to improve the trade deal by pointing out that for every 52 cars South Korea exported to the U.S., the U.S. only exported one to South Korea. “We believe in free trade, and this isn’t it,” Ford said in ads that ran in newspapers across the country.

On Friday, Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally praised the deal, saying it would “open new opportunities for Ford to reach even more Korean customers.”

Source:  Associated Press.


Warren Buffett brings tax fight to supercommittee

In Economics, News on October 13, 2011 at 9:50 am

Investor Warren Buffett


Warren Buffett is bringing his fight to raise taxes on the super-wealthy to Congress’ deficit-reduction supercommittee.

In an exchange of letters between the billionaire investor and a Republican congressman that Buffett sent the committee this week, Buffett is offering to release his federal tax returns — with a condition.

“If you could get other ultra rich Americans to publish their returns along with mine, that would be very useful to the tax dialogue and intelligent reform,” Buffett wrote.

The letters, obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, were among several sent in recent days to the special bipartisan panel created this summer to find ways to reduce the mushrooming national debt by at least $1.2 trillion over the coming decade.

The same law that produced the supercommittee gave Congress’ regular committees until Friday to submit their own suggestions for erasing red ink. Some of those that have trickled in so far indicate that rather than offering dramatic new ideas for savings, many lawmakers are championing longtime favorite proposals and urging the panel to avoid cutting certain programs.

In his letter to the panel, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who heads the Senate Health and Education Committee, asked the panel to take “bold and immediate action to create jobs” while embracing deficit reduction that would take effect after the unemployment rate drops. The leaders of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Chairman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., combined on a letter asking the supercommittee to “not neglect America’s transportation needs.”

In Buffett’s letter sent Tuesday to Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., Buffett did reveal new information about his own earnings last year. He wrote that his adjusted gross income, which can exclude some income and expenses, was $62,855,038. His taxable income was $39,814,784.

In a New York Times opinion piece this summer in which he said tax rates on the wealthiest Americans were too low, Buffett disclosed that he paid $6,938,744 in federal taxes last year, or 17.4 percent of his taxable income. Taxable income is lower than adjusted gross income because it subtracts exemptions and itemized deductions such as charitable contributions and state and local taxes.

Buffett’s views have become central to the struggle between President Barack Obama and Congress over how to control the federal debt. Obama has used the “Buffett Rule” to describe his fight to clamp taxes on the wealthy that are at least as high as those paid by lower earners, a drive that Republicans oppose.

Last week, Huelskamp, a conservative freshman, wrote Buffett offering to release his own tax returns if Buffett would do the same.

“If your name is lent to a national policy and your story the justification for a major overhaul to the tax code, then the American people have a right to see the evidence guiding that policy,” Huelskamp wrote.

Buffett responded that even an anonymous release of the returns of the 400 richest Americans would show how little taxes some are paying and “would be a big step in informing legislators and the public of what needs to be done.”

Buffett forwarded both letters to members of the supercommittee this week with a brief note stating in part, “You may find some of the figures helpful in your deliberations.”

As for the letters congressional committees are sending the supercommittee, Harkin’s suggests saving money by giving brand-name drugmakers fewer years of patent protection against generic competitors and encouraging students to take education loans directly from their colleges — both policies that have been favored by the Obama administration. Harkin wrote that the supercommittee should avoid cuts to programs including job training, Obama’s health care overhaul and aid to the disabled.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, encouraged the committee to pare savings from Social Security by gradually raising the future retirement age from 67 to 69 and, in some years, trimming annual inflation adjustments in benefits by 1 percentage point. Hutchison has been offering that proposal for weeks but it has been opposed by the seniors group AARP.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he and the panel’s top Republican, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, hope to write a bipartisan letter that other Armed Services members could support.

But the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he is trying to unite minority Republicans on that panel behind their own letter.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., who is also on the supercommittee, is considered unlikely to send a recommendation letter, as is another supercommittee member, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich.

The supercommittee has until Nov. 23 to send a package of savings to Congress. Lawmakers will have until Dec. 23 to vote on the measure, with failure meaning $1.2 trillion in cuts in defense and many domestic programs will begin taking effect in 2013.

Source: Associated Press.





Plot to kill ambassador unraveled on SW border

In Iran, Mexico, News, Terrorism on October 12, 2011 at 9:43 am


This 2004 provided by the Williamson County Jail shows Manssor Arbabsiar. Arbabsiar, a U.S. citizen who used to live in Corpus Christi, and a member of Iran's special foreign actions unit known as the Quds Force were charged in New York federal court Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011, with conspiring to kill Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. Justice Department officials say the men tried to hire a purported member of a Mexican drug cartel to carry out the assassination with a bomb attack while Al-Jubeir dined at his favorite restaurant. (AP Photo/Williamson County Jail via Corpus Christi Caller-Times) MANDATORY CREDIT


The unraveling of an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States came from a surprising place — the front lines of the drug war along the Mexican border.

And like a Hollywood thriller, the murder-for-hire tale cuts back and forth across international lines. “This case illustrates we live in a world where borders and boundaries are increasingly irrelevant,” said FBI Director Robert Mueller.

According to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in New York, the plot was revealed by an informant inside the world of the Mexican drug trade, a man paid by U.S. drug agents to rat out traffickers.

The complaint describes the informant as someone who was previously charged for violating drug laws in the United States but got the charges dismissed by agreeing to cooperate with U.S. drug investigations. U.S. officials trusted the informant because he had proved reliable in the past and led to several drug seizures — and the informant was paid for those tips.

In May 2011, the informant allegedly met with a Texas man named Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen who also had an Iranian passport. The complaint doesn’t say how the two were introduced, but Arbabsiar reportedly approached the informant, who he thought was an associate of a drug cartel well known for its violent tactics, to ask about his knowledge of explosives for an attack on a Saudi embassy.

The informant reached out to his contacts in the United States to tell them all about it. Rep. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he was told the informant was “somebody who was in one of the drug cartels, credible, long history, was fully capable of conducting the kind of operation the Iranian was asking for.”

“This guy brought it to us, and from there it was laid out in front of us as they went forward,” the Michigan Republican said.

The complaint said Arbabsiar and the informant met several more times in Mexico over the next few months, with the informant secretly recording their conversations for U.S. authorities. The two spoke English and their discussions became more focused on a specific target for violence — the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, a U.S.-educated commoner sent to the United States to repair relations after the Sept. 11 attacks who has been ambassador since 2007.

The complaint said Arbabsiar has fully confessed to his role in the operation and said he was recruited, funded and directed by Iran’s special foreign actions unit known as the Quds Force. Arbabsiar said his cousin Abdul Reza Shahlai was a high-ranking member of the Quds Force who approached him this past spring to ask for his cooperation. Arbabsiar said he frequently traveled between the U.S. and Mexico for work and knew people he believed were in the drug trade, and his cousin asked him if he could recruit someone in the narcotics business for criminal activity.

U.S. officials say Shahlai has a violent past — the Bush administration accused him of planning a Jan. 20, 2007, attack in Karbala, Iraq, that killed five American soldiers and wounded three others. This time, according to U.S. officials, Shahlai and other Quds agents approved a plot to pay their Mexican drug contact $1.5 million for the death of the ambassador — making a $100,000 down payment to an account the informant provided.

According to transcripts of their recorded conversations cited in the complaint, the informant told Arbabsiar he would kill the ambassador however he wanted — “blow him up or shoot him” — and Arbabsiar responded he should use whatever method was easiest. The plot eventually centered on targeting Al-Jubeir in his favorite restaurant and Arbabsiar was quoted as saying killing him alone would be better, “but sometime, you know, you have no choice.” Arbabsiar dismisses the possibility that 100-150 others in the restaurant could be killed along with the ambassador as “no problem” and “no big deal.”

Eventually, according to the complaint, the informant told Arbabsiar he must come to Mexico to offer himself as “collateral” for the final payment of the $1.5 million fee for the assassination. Arbabsiar said his cousin’s deputy at the Quds Force — Gholam Shakuri, also charged in the complaint but at large in Iran — warned him against offering himself as a guarantee of payment. But Arbabsiar went anyway, boarding a flight to Mexico on Sept. 28 with plans to fly to Iran after the plot was finished.

Mexican authorities, who say they had been cooperating with U.S. officials in the investigation, denied Arbabsiar entry into the country and he boarded a flight to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. Law enforcement officials secretly boarded with him to keep him under surveillance, and he was arrested when he got off the plane in New York.

Arbabsiar agreed to cooperate with U.S. authorities and made several recorded phone calls to Shakuri in which they discussed the purchase of a “Chevrolet,” their agreed-upon code-word for the plot. Shakuri urged Arbabsiar to make sure they “just do it quickly.”

Source Associated Press.

Senate GOP poised to scuttle Obama’s jobs plan

In Barak Obama, Democrats, News, Politics, Republican on October 11, 2011 at 10:04 am

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., center, accompanied by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., left, and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Ariz., talks about President Obama's job bill, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2011, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)



President Barack Obama’s jobs bill, facing a critical test in the Senate, appears likely to fail because Republicans oppose its spending components and its tax surcharge on millionaires.

Obama has been waging a campaign-style effort to rally public support behind the $447 billion measure, which was expected to be the subject of a Senate vote Tuesday. The plan combines payroll tax cuts for workers and businesses with $175 billion in spending on roads, school repairs and other infrastructure, as well as unemployment assistance and help to local governments to avoid layoffs of teachers, firefighters and police officers.

The key elements of the jobs package reprise parts of Obama’s $800 billion-plus 2009 stimulus measure and a Social Security payroll tax cut enacted last year. Unlike the controversial stimulus bill, the jobs measure would be financed by a 5.6 percent surcharge on income exceeding $1 million, raising more than $450 billion over a decade.

In making the case for the bill, the White House cites economists like Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics, who predicts that the measure would add 2 percentage points of growth to the economy, add 1.9 million payroll jobs and reduce unemployment by a percentage point. But Republicans point to optimistic predictions about the 2009 measure that didn’t come to pass; unemployment hovers just above 9 percent nationwide.

Republicans say the 2009 stimulus measure was an expensive failure and say the current plan is just like it.

The president has been struggling in opinion polls, and his crusade for the measure has always been a long shot, given that Republicans control the House and can filibuster at will in the Senate. Obama has nonetheless pressed for the bitterly divided Congress to pass the measure in its entirety rather than seek compromise with his GOP rivals.

“This is not the time for the usual games or political gridlock in Washington,” Obama said in his weekend radio and Internet address. “Any senator out there who’s thinking about voting against this jobs bill needs to explain why they would oppose something that we know would improve our economic situation.”

While Republicans backed the payroll tax cut last year and support elements like continued tax breaks for investments in business equipment, they’re adamantly opposed to further spending and say the tax surcharge would strike at small businesses.

“It’s not a jobs bill. In our view, it’s another stimulus bill,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told Fox News last week. “I don’t think it’ll pass and I don’t think it should.” House GOP leaders say they won’t bring the measure to the floor.

Democratic unanimity is not assured. Moderates like Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. — both are up for re-election next year in states where Obama figures to lose — may abandon their party, even as oil-state Democrats have been assuaged by a decision to get rid of an Obama proposal to have oil companies give up tax breaks.

“We’re likely to lose two, three, four Democrats,” Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second ranking Democrat in the Senate, told Chicago’s WTTW-TV Monday. “I don’t know if we’ll pick up any Republicans.”

Tuesday’s vote is on whether to cut off a GOP filibuster on a motion to simply begin debate on the measure. If Democrats fail as expected — they control 53 votes in the 100-member Senate — it will start up a fresh wave of partisan finger-pointing.

Both the House and Senate are then expected to turn this week to approving U.S. trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, one of the few areas of agreement between Republicans and the administration on boosting the economy.

Source: Associated Press



SPIN METER: Obama disconnects rhetoric, reality

In Barak Obama, Democrats, News, Politics, Republican on October 10, 2011 at 10:11 am


President Barak Obama


In President Barack Obama’s sales pitch for his jobs bill, there are two versions of reality: The one in his speeches and the one actually unfolding in Washington.

When Obama accuses Republicans of standing in the way of his nearly $450 billion plan, he ignores the fact that his own party has struggled to unite behind the proposal.

When the president says Republicans haven’t explained what they oppose in the plan, he skips over the fact that Republicans who control the House actually have done that in detail.

And when he calls on Congress to “pass this bill now,” he slides past the point that Democrats control the Senate and were never prepared to move immediately, given other priorities. Senators are expected to vote Tuesday on opening debate on the bill, a month after the president unveiled it with a call for its immediate passage.

To be sure, Obama is not the only one engaging in rhetorical excesses. But he is the president, and as such, his constant remarks on the bill draw the most attention and scrutiny.

The disconnect between what Obama says about his jobs bill and what stands as the political reality flow from his broader aim: to rally the public behind his cause and get Congress to act, or, if not, to pin blame on Republicans.

He is waging a campaign, one in which nuance and context and competing responses don’t always fit in if they don’t help make the case.

For example, when Obama says his jobs plan is made up of ideas that have historically had bipartisan support, he stops the point there. Not mentioned is that Republicans have never embraced the tax increases that he is proposing to cover the cost of his plan.

Likewise, from city to city, Obama is demanding that Congress act (he means Republicans) while it has been clear for weeks that the GOP will not support all of his bill, to say the least. Individual elements of it may well pass, such as Obama’s proposal to extend and expand a payroll tax cut. But Republicans strongly oppose the president’s proposed new spending and his plan to raise taxes on millionaires to pay for the package.

The fight over the legislative proposal has become something much bigger: a critical test of the president’s powers of persuading the public heading into the 2012 presidential campaign, and of Republicans’ ability to deny him a win and reap victory for themselves.

“He knows it’s not going to pass. He’s betting that voters won’t pick up on it, or even if they do they will blame Congress and he can run against the `do-nothing Congress,'” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a senior fellow at the University of Southern California‘s School of Policy, Planning and Development.

John Sides, political science professor at George Washington University, said Obama‘s approach on the jobs bill is “more about campaigning than governing.”

“He’s mostly just going around talking about this and drawing contrasts with what the Republicans want and what he wants and not really trying to work these legislative levers he might be able to use to get this passed,” Sides said. “That just suggests to me that he is ready to use a failed jobs bill as a campaign message against the Republicans.”

The president’s opponents aren’t exactly laying it all out, either.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., tried to force a vote on the bill last week, innocently claiming that the president was entitled to one. McConnell knew full well that the result would be failure for the legislation and an embarrassment for Obama.

House Speaker John Boehner, meanwhile, claimed that Obama has “given up on the country and decided to campaign full-time” instead of seeking common ground with the GOP. But Boehner neglected to mention that Obama’s past attempts at compromise with Republicans often yielded scant results, as Obama himself pointed out.

The approach for Obama, who is seeking a second term in a dismal economy, is far different than the one he took when running for president. He criticized the GOP then, but talked about ending blue-state and red-state America, replacing it with one America, fixing the broken political system, and fundamentally changing Washington.

That ended up being change he could not bring about, and now analysts say Obama may have little choice but to campaign more narrowly by attacking opponents rather than trying to bring people together.

Obama’s attempts at compromise with the GOP on the debt ceiling and budget won him little in the way of policy, instead engendering frustration from Democrats who saw him as caving to Republican demands.

The new, combative Obama isn’t looking for compromise. He’s looking for a win. And if he can’t get the legislative victory he says he wants, he has made clear that he’s more than willing to take a political win.

It is, he acknowledges, a result his campaign for his jobs bill is designed to achieve.

Talking up the bill in an appearance last month with African-American news websites, Obama said: “I need people to be out there promoting this and pushing this and making sure that everybody understands the details of what this would mean, so that one of two things happen: Either Congress gets it done, or if Congress doesn’t get it done, people know exactly what’s holding it up.”

Source:  Associated Press.



Presidential race loses fizz for Tea Party

In News, Politics, Tea Party on October 9, 2011 at 2:09 pm

A man carries a U.S. flag during a Tea Party rally in Napa, California

By Patricia Zengerle and Eric Johnson, Reuters

With their favored candidates for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination lagging or out of the race, many U.S. Tea Party activists are shifting focus to the struggle for control of the U.S. Senate.

The fizz has gone out of the presidential contest for some supporters of the fiscally conservative movement now that former Alaska governor Sarah Palin is not running and Texas Governor Rick Perry and congresswoman Michele Bachmann are slipping in polls.

“No one is going to get perfect in a general election candidate. That is why we think the Senate is a better place to focus,” said Matt Kibbe, president and chief executive of the libertarian FreedomWorks, a Tea Party group.

In the 2010 mid-term elections, Tea Party opposition to President Barack Obama’s policies played a big role in slashing the Democrats’ majority in the 100-member Senate to just six seats and eliminating their majority in the House of Representatives.

With 23 of the 33 Senate seats up for grabs next year now held by Democrats, and a wave of public hostility to incumbents, Tea Party activists said they looked forward to more Republican gains in 2012.

“We’ll maintain the House without a problem. We absolutely have to take back the Senate and focus on that and not let presidential politics consume all of our time and energy,” said Amy Kremer, chairwoman of the California-based Tea Party Express Political Action Committee.

Some of the eight to 10 Senate seats seen as very competitive next year are in Wisconsin, Florida and Ohio, states where Tea Party groups had a big impact in 2010 and during state legislative sessions, fueling optimism about next year, Kibbe said.

“If the issues are the economy and jobs, the burden of spending and the national debt, those are swing issues that Tea Partiers care about most — there is a nice confluence in what motivates independent voters and what motivates Tea Partiers,” he said.


Fueling the Tea Party’s disenchantment with the Republican presidential race are suspicions that front-runner Mitt Romney is too moderate and not committed to core conservative causes. The Tea Party favors lower spending and smaller government.

The former Massachusetts governor has been attacked by conservatives for introducing a healthcare program in the state that many say was a model for the sweeping healthcare overhaul enacted by Obama in 2010.

“People are definitely not rallying to Romney,” said Chris Littleton, co-founder of the Ohio Liberty Council, a coalition of about 80 Tea Party groups in Ohio, a swing state considered a must-win for any Republican presidential candidate.

“I cannot recall a single conversation I’ve had with anyone who is conservative and liberty-minded where that person supports Romney,” he said.

Some are shifting allegiance to Herman Cain, who has gained in recent polls and appeals to Tea Party activists with a plan to drastically overhaul the tax code, but Cain has yet to prove he can assemble the strong campaign team or attract the level of donations he would need to secure the nomination.

Romney’s campaign said his platform of reduced taxes, lower spending and limited government would appeal to Republicans, the Tea Party and even some Democrats, and that he would continue to reach out to all voters.

In the end, Tea Party voters are expected to put aside ideological differences with Romney if he does become the nominee, because their primary goal in next year’s presidential race is denying Obama a second term.

“The Tea Party to some extent, though not completely, was born in reaction to the Obama movement. Certainly their number one priority is going to be to beat Barack Obama in the fall. There’s no question about that,” said Doug Heye, a political consultant and former Republican National Committee spokesman.

Sal Russo, chief strategist and co-founder of the Tea Party Express, said he viewed all the Republican candidates as fiscally conservative enough for the Tea Party. Besides, he added, in the end the movement’s supporters want a candidate who can win.

“It certainly doesn’t do us any good to run and lose,” he said.

Source: Thomson Reuters


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