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Doubtful social conservatives giving Romney chance

In News, Politics, Republican on October 8, 2011 at 9:36 am

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to Citadel cadets and supporters during a campaign speech inside Mark Clark Hall on The Citadel campus in Charleston, S.C., Friday Oct. 7, 2011. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)

By PHILIP ELLIOTT, AP

This year, pocketbook issues seem to matter more than pulpit preaching among cultural conservatives and at least some are willing to embrace Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney, who they’ve long looked at skeptically.

“No one’s perfect,” says Larry Smith of Newport Beach, Calif., one of thousands of conservatives gathering in Washington this weekend to hear from the slate of GOP candidates at the annual Values Voters Summit. Smith cast the choice before him as a compromise, and says he’s leaning toward the former Massachusetts governor. Even though Romney has strayed from conservative orthodoxy on some social issues in the past, he still posts a strong record as a businessman.

“He has the skills to help us on this particular issue, at this particular time,” Smith said.

By that, he means the economy, with its stubbornly high 9.1 percent unemployment rate and sluggish growth.

If interviews with conference attendees are any indication, that’s what is giving Romney his best shot at winning over some of the social and Christian conservatives who he failed to attract in his first campaign in 2008 and is trying to make inroads with this year.

Romney was to speak to the group Saturday, a day after his chief rival, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, took the stage to strong applause and criticized Romney for his shifting position on abortion, without ever using Romney’s name.

“For some candidates, pro-life is an election-year slogan to follow the prevailing political winds,” Perry said in a speech that at times felt more sermon than political pleas.

But a pastor who endorsed and later introduced Perry quickly served up a reminder of Romney’s membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are commonly called Mormons.

“Rick Perry’s a Christian. He’s an evangelical Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ,” said Robert Jeffress, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas. “Mitt Romney’s a good moral person, but he’s not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. It has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity.”

Perry made clear that he disagrees with Jeffress.

Asked by reporters Friday night in Tiffin, Iowa, whether Mormonism is a cult, Perry replied, “No.”

The gathering came the same week that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie both announced they would not run for president, leaving donors and grass-roots conservatives up for grabs — and giving Romney an opportunity to try to cast himself as the candidate who can appeal to a broad swath of the GOP.

It’s a shift from four years ago, when Romney focused his campaign largely on social issues that would play well with this audience. It didn’t work; he couldn’t overcome skepticism of his Mormon faith and his record of reversing himself on issues like abortion rights and gay rights. And these voters aren’t a natural fit for Romney with others like Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum — who have long championed their causes — in the race.

But many of the roughly two dozen interviewed indicated that because the GOP field lacks a candidate that perfectly fits their wish list, they were willing to consider backing someone who doesn’t stack up perfectly but who may have the strongest chance at beating President Barack Obama. Many said Romney may well fit the bill.

“If you go with your gut, that’s fine. But I would lean toward the person who is more electable,” said Johnny Lee, a 57-year-old federal worker from the Washington area. He is considering backing Romney, as well as Georgia business executive Herman Cain and Santorum. Among Lee’s many considerations is who would fare best at the ballot boxes against Obama.

“If you’re going with your values and there aren’t enough people who share those values, you’re not going to win the change in leadership this country needs,” Lee said. “And we need a change.”

At this venue at least, it seems that activists aren’t heeding Bachmann’s warnings not to settle for a candidate who isn’t rock solid on their issues.

“It’s time for the Republican Party to nominate someone who will lead the whole country,” said Chris Balkema, a 40-year-old Caterpillar employee from Channahon, Ill. “We don’t need to settle. But we need someone will lead the left, right and center of this country, while defending the Constitution.”

Balkema said that could be Romney, although he wasn’t ruling out others.

Even so, Bachmann — who is a favorite of tea partyers, home schooling parents and grassroots activists — pitched herself as a pure conservative voters need, and urged them not to choose a moderate candidate who might not share their values.

“Conservatives, we can have it all this year because Barack Obama will be a one-term president,” she said, bringing the audience to its feel late Friday evening. “Let’s finally have one of us in the White House.”

She then hinted at Romney’s changing shape on abortion rights and gay rights.

“You won’t find YouTube clips of me speaking in support of Roe vs. Wade. You won’t find me hemming and hawing when it comes to defining marriage as between one man and one woman.”

Some agree with her.

“We chose someone last time who was willing to cross the aisle on anything,” said Dwayne Owens, a 67-year-old from Southside, Ala., pointing to 2008’s unsuccessful presidential nominee Sen. John McCain. “We can’t nominate someone whose sole message is compromise. We need someone who is willing to get in a dogfight.”

Source: Associated Press

 

 
 
 
 
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FACT CHECK: Obama claims miss some evidence

In Barak Obama, Democrats, News, Politics on October 7, 2011 at 10:02 am

President Barack Obama smiles during his news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Oct., 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

By JIM KUHNHENN, AP

Are President Barack Obama’s ideas for job creation really bipartisan as he claims? Not when the means for paying for them are put in the equation.

The president dodged various facts and and left some evidence in the dust in his latest challenge to Republicans to get behind his jobs program or offer a real alternative.

A look at some of the claims in his fast-paced news conference and how they compare with the facts:

OBAMA: “If it turns out that there are Republicans who are opposed to this bill, they need to explain to me, but more importantly to their constituencies and the American people, why they’re opposed, and what would they do.”

THE FACTS: While Republicans might not be campaigning on their opposition to Obama’s plan, they’ve hardly kept their objections a secret.

In a memorandum to House Republicans Sept. 16, House Speaker John Boehner and members of the GOP leadership said they could find common ground with Obama on the extension of certain business tax breaks, waiving a payment withholding provision for federal contractors, incentives for hiring veterans, and job training measures in connection with unemployment insurance.

They objected to new spending on public works programs, suggesting instead that Congress and the president work out those priorities in a highway spending bill. And they raised concerns about Obama’s payroll tax cuts for workers and small businesses, arguing that the benefits of a one-year tax cut would be short-lived. The memo also pointed out that reducing payroll taxes, which pay for Social Security, temporarily forces Social Security to tap the government’s general fund. And it opposed additional spending to prevent layoffs of teachers, police officers and other public workers.

_____

OBAMA: “Every idea that we’ve put forward are ones that traditionally have been supported by Democrats and Republicans alike.”

THE FACTS: Obama proposes to pay for his jobs bill by raising taxes, something traditionally opposed by Republicans and, in the form Obama proposed it, even some Democrats. Senate Democrats were so allergic to Obama’s approach, which relied largely on limiting deductions that can be taken by individuals making over $200,000 a year and couples making more than $250,000, that they’re eliminating it and replacing it with a new tax on millionaires.

In claiming bipartisan support for the components of his proposal, the president appears to be referring just to what the plan would do, not how it’s paid for, but that’s a crucial distinction he doesn’t make.

Some of tax-cutting proposals offered by Obama have received significant Republican support in the past. But some of the new spending he proposes has received only nominal Republican backing. Evidence of bipartisanship provided by the White House includes legislation last year that provided $10 billion to prevent teacher layoffs. It won the support of only two Republican senators — Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine and among the most moderate Republicans in Congress. Another example cited by the White House was his proposal last year to offer tax breaks to businesses that hire new workers — it passed the House 217-201 with six Republican votes.

____

OBAMA: “The answer we’re getting right now is: Well, we’re going to roll back all these Obama regulations… Does anybody really think that that is going to create jobs right now and meet the challenges of a global economy?”

THE FACTS: Well, yes, some think it will. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce last month submitted a jobs proposal to Obama that included a call to ease regulations on businesses. It specifically called for streamlining environmental reviews on major construction projects and to delay the issuance of some potentially burdensome regulations until the economy and employment have improved. In the letter, Chamber President Thomas Donohue also called on Congress to pass legislation that would require congressional approval of major regulations. The chamber did not indicate how many jobs such regulatory changes could create, but it said: “Immediate regulatory relief is required in order to begin moving $1 trillion-$2 trillion in accumulated private capital off of the sidelines and into business expansion.”

____

OBAMA: “We can either keep taxes exactly as they are for millionaires and billionaires, with loopholes that lead them to have lower tax rates, in some cases, than plumbers and teachers, or we can put teachers and construction workers and veterans back on the job.”

THE FACTS: True, “in some cases” wealthy people can exploit loopholes to make their tax rate lower than for people of middle or low income. In recent rhetoric, Obama had suggested it was commonplace for rich people to pay lower rates than others, a claim not supported by IRS statistics. But on Thursday, Obama accurately stated that it only happens sometimes.

In 2009, 1,470 households filed tax returns with incomes above $1 million yet paid no federal income tax, according to the IRS. Yet that was less than 1 percent of returns with incomes above $1 million. On average, taxpayers who made $1 million or more paid 24.4 percent of their income in federal income taxes; those making $100,000 to $125,000 paid 9.9 percent; those making $50,000 to $60,000 paid 6.3 percent. The White House argues that when payroll taxes — paid only on the first $106,800 of wages — are factored in, more middle class workers wind up with a higher tax rate than millionaires.

___

OBAMA: “China has been very aggressive in gaming the trading system to its advantage and to the disadvantage of other countries, particularly the United States. …. And currency manipulation is one example of it, or at least intervening in the currency markets in ways that have led their currency to be valued lower than the market would normally dictate. And that makes their exports cheaper and that makes our exports to them more expensive.”

THE FACTS: While Obama complained about China’s efforts to keeps its currency undervalued to gain trade advantages, his administration has repeatedly refused to brand China as a currency manipulator in a report that the Treasury Department is required to send to Congress twice a year.

Such a designation would trigger negotiations between the two countries and could ultimately lead to U.S. trade sanctions against China.

The administration has been reluctant to brand China a currency manipulator, as have past administrations, because the United States depends on China to buy U.S. Treasury securities to help finance America’s budget deficits. China owns $1.17 trillion in U.S. Treasury securities, making it the largest foreign holder of Treasury debt.

Sosurce: Associated Press

Unions lend muscle, resources to Wall St. protests

In News on October 6, 2011 at 10:06 am

Nurse Margret Sweeney, center, and others join Occupy Wall Street during a march in Lower Manhattan Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011 in New York. Unions gave a high-profile boost to the long-running protest against Wall Street and economic inequality Wednesday, with their members joining thousands of protesters in a lower Manhattan march. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

By CRISTIAN SALAZAR and KAREN ZRAICK, AP

Unions lent their muscle to the long-running protest against Wall Street and economic inequality Wednesday, fueling speculation about how long the camp-out in lower Manhattan — and related demonstrations around the country — will continue.

Thousands of protesters, including many in union T-shirts, filled lower Manhattan’s Foley Square on Wednesday and then marched to Zuccotti Park, where the protesters have been camping since Sept. 17. Labor leaders say they will continue to support the protests, both with manpower and donations of goods and services.

“The great thing about Occupy Wall Street is that they have brought the focus of the entire country on the middle class majority,” said George Aldro, 62, a member of Local 2325 of the United Auto Workers, as he carried the union’s blue flag over his shoulder through lower Manhattan.

“We’re in it together, and we’re in it for the long haul.”

The protesters have varied causes but have spoken largely about unemployment and economic inequality, reserving most of their criticism for Wall Street. “We are the 99 percent,” they chanted, contrasting themselves with the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.

Ed Figueroa, a janitor in a public school in the Bronx and a shop steward with Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, said the march was “the first time in these weeks that unions have shown their face.”

“But it won’t be the last time,” he said. “We’ll be back.”

The unions were donating food, blankets and office space to the protesters, said Dan Cantor, head of the Working Families Party. But he said the young protesters would continue to head their own efforts. The movement lacks an identified leader and decisions are made during group meetings.

“They’re giving more to us than we’re giving to them. They’re a shot in the arm to everybody,” Cantor said.

“The labor movement is following the youth of America today and that’s a good thing.”

Victor Rivera, a vice-president for the powerful 1199 Service Employees International Union, which represents health care workers, said the union had donated “all the food they need for this entire week” to the Zuccotti Park campers. Union leaders had also assigned liaisons from their political action committee to work with demonstrators.

“We are here to support this movement against Wall Street’s greed,” he said. “We support the idea that the rich should pay their fair share.”

Late Wednesday, some demonstrators marched toward the New York Stock Exchange but were stopped by police about two blocks away. Police said about 28 arrests were made, mostly for disorderly conduct. One person was arrested for assaulting an officer; police said the officer was pushed off his scooter.

The Occupy Wall Street protests started Sept. 17 with a few dozen demonstrators who tried to pitch tents in front of the New York Stock Exchange. Since then, hundreds have set up camp nearby in Zuccotti Park and have become increasingly organized, lining up medical aid and legal help and printing their own newspaper.

On Saturday, about 700 people were arrested and given disorderly conduct summonses for spilling into the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge despite warnings from police. A group of those arrested filed a lawsuit Tuesday, saying officers lured them into a trap before arresting them.

Several Democratic lawmakers have expressed support for the protesters, but some Republican presidential candidates have rebuked them. Herman Cain called the activists “un-American” Wednesday at a book signing in St. Petersburg, Fla.

“They’re basically saying that somehow the government is supposed to take from those that have succeeded and give to those who want to protest,” the former pizza-company executive said. “That’s not the way America was built.”

On Tuesday, CBS reported that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney called the protest “class warfare” at an appearance at a Florida retirement community.

Activists have been showing solidarity with the movement in many cities: Occupy Providence. Occupy Los Angeles. Occupy Boise. More protests and sit-ins are planned across the country in the days ahead.

On Wednesday, more than 100 people withstood an afternoon downpour in Idaho’s capital to protest, including Judy Taylor, a retired property manager.

“I want change. I’m tired of things being taken away from those that need help,” she said.

In Seattle, demonstrators tussled with police officers and clung to tents as they defied orders to leave a park. Police said they made 25 arrests. The reception was warmer in Los Angeles, where the City Council approved a resolution of support and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office distributed 100 rain ponchos to activists at another days-long demonstration, according to City News Service.

In Boston, hundreds of nurses and Northeastern University students rallied together to condemn what they called corporate control of government and the spiraling costs of education. The students banged on drums made of water jugs and chanted, “Banks got bailed out, and we got sold out.”

“This is an organic process. This is a process of grassroots people coming together. It’s a beautiful thing,” said David Schildmeier, spokesman for the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

Many of those protesting are college students. Hundreds walked out of classes in New York, some in a show of solidarity for the Wall Street movement but many more concerned with worries closer to home. Protests were scheduled at State University of New York campuses including Albany, Buffalo, Binghamton, New Paltz and Purchase.

Danielle Kingsbury, a 21-year-old senior from New Paltz, said she walked out of an American literature class to show support for some of her professors who she said have had their workloads increased because of budget cuts.

“The state of education in our country is ridiculous,” said Kingsbury, who plans to teach. “The state doesn’t care about it and we need to fight back about that.”

Source:  Associated Press

 

 
 
 
 

Perry once defended Confederate symbols

In News, Politics, Race on October 4, 2011 at 1:29 pm

This image provided by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles shows the design of a proposed Sons of Confederate Veterans license plate. Eleven years ago, when the NAACP stepped up a campaign to remove the Confederate battle flag from statehouses and other government buildings across the South, it found an opponent in then Lt. Gov. Rick Perry. Perry argued that states should honor their history and decide on appropriate displays. A related issue may rise this fall when Texas decides whether to allow specialty license plates featuring the Confederate flag. (AP Photo/Texas Department of Motor Vehicles)

By WILL WEISSERT, AP

Eleven years ago, when the NAACP stepped up a campaign to remove the Confederate battle flag from statehouses and other government buildings across the South, it found an opponent in Rick Perry.

Texas had a pair of bronze plaques with symbols of the Confederacy displayed in its state Supreme Court building. Perry, then lieutenant governor, said they should stay put, arguing that Texans “should never forget our history.”

It’s a position Perry has taken consistently when the legacy of the Civil War has been raised, as have officials in many of the other former Confederate states. But while defense of Confederate symbols and Southern institutions can still be good politics below the Mason-Dixon line, the subject can appear in a different light when officials seek national office.

For Perry, now Texas governor for 11 years and in the top tier of Republican presidential candidates, a racial issue is already dogging him.

He took criticism over the weekend for a rock outside the Texas hunting camp his family once leased that had the name Niggerhead painted on it. Perry’s campaign says the governor’s father painted over the rock to cover the name soon after he began leasing the site in the early 1980s and says the Perry family never controlled, owned or managed the property. But rival Herman Cain, the only black Republican in the race, says the rock symbolizes Perry’s insensitivity to race.

A related issue may rise this fall when Texas decides whether to allow specialty license plates featuring the Confederate flag. The plates have been requested by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a nonprofit organization Perry has supported over the years. A state board he appointed will decide.

The NAACP says its initiative against “glorification” of slave-state symbols remains ongoing. “The romanticism around the Old South,” said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau. “It’s a view of history that ignores how racism became a tool to maintain a system of supremacy and dominance.”

Perry campaign spokesman Mark Miner did not return messages seeking comment on the matter. But Granvel Block, the Texas Division commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said the organization appreciated Perry’s position on such issues.

“I would give him high praise for saying it,” Block said. “Honoring your ancestors, it’s something that the Bible teaches.”

The Confederate battle flag has been chief target for the NAACP. The organization called for a boycott of South Carolina in 2000 for flying the banner over its statehouse. The state moved the flag to a capitol memorial. In 2003, Georgia replaced its state flag, which included the Confederate battle standard, with one that combined other elements from previous state flags. Other institutions have scaled back their displays of Confederate heritage. The University of Mississippi retired Colonel Rebel as its on-field mascot.

In January 2000 the NAACP asked Texas to remove the Confederate battle flag from plaques in the entryway of a building housing the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, saying it undermined the notion of judicial equality. One of the 11-inch by 20-inch bronze plaques featured the seal of the Confederacy and the other the image of the battle flag and quotations from Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Perry wrote to the Sons of Confederate Veterans in March 2000 that, “although this is an emotional issue, I want you to know that I oppose efforts to remove Confederate monuments, plaques and memorials from public property.”

“I also believe that communities should decide whether statues or other memorials are appropriate for their community,” Perry wrote in the letter, one of several obtained by The Associated Press under a public information request. “I believe that Texans should remember the past and learn from it.”

He added, “We should never forget our history, but dwelling on the 19th century takes needed attention away from our future in the 21st century.”

Perry elaborated publically on the issue, saying, “I think you’ve got a slippery slope when you start saying we’re going to start taking down every plaque or monument.”

He wasn’t the only prominent Texan defending the plaques. Then-Gov. George W. Bush, himself running for president, initially said they should remain but then reversed himself and authorized the state’s General Services Commission to replace the plaques with new ones saying equal justice is available to all Texans “regardless of race, creed or color.”

The floor of the Texas Capitol’s rotunda still bears the seal of the Confederacy, and statues on the grounds memorialize Lee and Confederate soldiers. But civil rights organizations consider the battle flag the most objectionable symbol.

Public officials in Texas, as well as in the other Southern states, are called upon periodically to honor Confederate causes because related organizations observe its anniversaries. Block said the Sons of Confederate Veterans was founded in 1896 and has 2,500 members statewide. Also active is the Texas Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

In a 2005 letter, Perry welcomed attendees of a benefit hosted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “By learning about the past,” he wrote, “we honor our ancestors’ memories and contributions, and appreciate the people and events that preceded the present.” Perry’s great-great-grandfather David H. Hamilton fought at Gettysburg with the First Texas Infantry.

Two years later, Perry issued a “Message from the Governor” honoring Lawrence Sullivan “Sul” Ross on what would have been his 169th birthday. He noted Ross’ service as a Confederate brigadier general, two-time Texas governor and president of what became Texas A&M University, calling him “one of the greats on whose shoulders our modern day Texas rests.” The Sons of Confederate Veterans maintains a college scholarship fund in Ross’ honor — despite accusations that Ross was behind the murder of black prisoners of war in Mississippi.

Today, Block’s organization wants to use the Confederate flag license plate to raise money to pay for markers on Confederate soldiers’ graves. “I know that to some people it’s an issue,” he said. “But our purpose is to honor our ancestors and to educate the public on the true cause of the war.”

The state Department of Motor Vehicles board tied 4-4 in an April vote because one of its members, Ramsay Gillman of Houston, was absent. Gillman then died and Perry chose a new appointee, Raymond Palacios Jr. of El Paso.

Palacios declined to comment on the issue. Members won’t vote on the plate until at least Nov. 9. A similar request from the Sons of Confederate Veterans was denied two years ago, but the criteria have been expanded, opening the door for approval this time. Texas has approved 276 specialty plates.

Perry hasn’t commented. “This is a matter before the board,” said Lucy Nashed, a governor’s office spokeswoman.

Matt Glazer, executive director of Progress, Texas, a left-leaning advocacy group, said of Block’s organization: “If they want to put a sticker on their car, or fly the Confederate flag at their home or business, that’s up to them. But the state itself should not associate itself with this racist relic.”

Source:  Associated Press.

 

 
 
 
 

Panetta warns Israel against growing isolation

In Israel, News, Palestinian, Politics, Terrorism on October 3, 2011 at 9:27 am

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta answers questions aboard an Air Force plane over the Atlantic Ocean Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011. Panetta is traveling to the Middle East to meet with leaders on various issues related to the region. (AP Photo/Win McNamee, Pool)

By LOLITA C. BALDOR, AP

The continuing turmoil in the Middle East makes it crucial that Israel finds ways to communicate with other nations in the region if it’s ever going to enjoy peace and stability, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned in a blunt assessment.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday as he traveled to the Mideast and Europe, Panetta said the Jewish homeland is becoming increasingly isolated in the region. He said Israeli leaders need to restart negotiations with the Palestinians and work to restore relations with Egypt and Turkey.

“There’s not much question in my mind that they maintain that (military) edge,” Panetta said. “But the question you have to ask: Is it enough to maintain a military edge if you’re isolating yourself in the diplomatic arena? Real security can only be achieved by both a strong diplomatic effort as well as a strong effort to project your military strength.”

Panetta is scheduled to meet this week with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and then travel to a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels. He will also go to Egypt, where he will meet with that nation’s new leaders.

His visit comes as Mideast negotiators push for a peace deal by the end of next year, amping up pressure for the resumption of long-stalled talks.

The Pentagon chief said Israel risks eroding its own security if it does not reach out to its neighbors.

“It’s pretty clear that at this dramatic time in the Middle East, when there have been so many changes, that it is not a good situation for Israel to become increasingly isolated. And that’s what’s happening,” he said.

Panetta said the most important thing now is for Israel and its neighbors “to try to develop better relationships so in the very least they can communicate with each other rather than taking these issues to the streets.”

His visit comes at a particularly critical and fragile time.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has asked the U.N. Security Council to recognize an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. The United States opposed the U.N. bid, saying there is no substitute for direct peace negotiations. But with Israel continuing to build settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, Abbas says there is no point in talking.

Some 500,000 Jewish settlers now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

The United States, Britain, France and other council members are likely to try to hold up consideration of the application while they press for a resumption of long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Panetta is scheduled to meet with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

His visit to Israel comes six months after his predecessor, Robert Gates, traveled to the region to meet with Israeli leaders and make the first journey to the West Bank to talk with Fayyad

Source:  The Associated Press.

 

 
 
 
 

Anti-terrorism success may not help Obama in 2012

In Barak Obama, News, Terrorism on October 2, 2011 at 9:19 am
FILE – In this Oct. 29, 2010, file photo President Barack Obama leaves the White House press briefing room after saying the U.S. is committed to disrupting al-Qaida in Yemen. The drone strike in Yemen Friday killed the radical cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki, al-Qaida bomb-maker Ibrahim al-Asiri and Samir Khan, the editor of the al-Qaida propaganda magazine Inspire, making the attack perhaps the single most successful drone strike ever. Obama’s approval rating on terrorism was higher than on any other issue, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll conducted in late August. It showed that 60 percent of those surveyed approved of his handling of terrorism. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

By JULIE PACE, AP

The killing of an American-born cleric in Yemen underscores a re-election reality for President Barack Obama: He may have a string of counterterrorism successes and high marks from the public on foreign policy, but neither is likely to help him hold the White House.

For the Obama administration, it’s a frustrating bottom-line.

When the first-term senator won the presidency, questions lingered about his readiness to handle national security matters. Yet Obama has received wide praise for operations that have killed terrorist leaders, most notably Osama bin Laden in May, and Anwar al-Awlaki on Friday.

Al-Awlaki, an American citizen targeted in a U.S. drone attack, was deemed by the administration as having a “significant operational role” in terrorist plots. They included two nearly catastrophic attacks on U.S.-bound planes, an airliner on Christmas 2009 and cargo planes last year.

Obama also can claim credit for aiding Libyan rebels in ousting Moammar Gadhafi, for supporting other democratic uprisings in the Arab world, for drawing down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for negotiating a new nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.

But barring unforeseen events, the nation’s stubbornly high unemployment rate and turmoil in the financial markets mean people are far more likely to vote next November with the economy foremost in their minds, not the president’s record on foreign policy and terrorism.

That’s bad news for the administration because the public gives Obama far higher approval ratings on terrorism than on his handling of the economy.

In fact, Obama’s approval rating on terrorism was higher than on any other issue, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll conducted in late August. It showed that 60 percent of those surveyed approved of his handling of terrorism. Just 36 percent approved of his handling of the economy, an all-time low for Obama.

Obama’s overall approval rating also fell to an all-time low in the poll, 46 percent.

The re-election picture gets even gloomier given that 92 percent of those questioned said the economy was an extremely or very important issue. By comparison, 73 percent put the same emphasis on terrorism, but even they’re divided over whether Obama should be re-elected.

It’s also unclear whether the killing of al-Awlaki will bring Obama any new political support. The fiery American-born cleric had a hand in several high-profile terror attempts on the U.S., but his name is hardly as familiar to most Americans as bin Laden.

Obama’s orders for U.S. special forces to kill bin Laden during a raid on his Pakistani compound did give the president’s approval rating a bump. But it proved fleeting, further evidence of the secondary role of terrorism for voters.

“It’s not 2004,” said Rick Nelson, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “This isn’t the primary issue facing the United States. The primary issue is the economy and jobs. That issue is going to overshadow anything we do overseas.”

The joint CIA-U.S. military airstrike that targeted al-Awlaki and killed a second American citizen wasn’t without controversy.

The attack apparently was the first time a U.S. citizen was tracked and executed based on secret intelligence and the president’s say-so, raising questions about the reach of presidents’ powers.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a GOP presidential contender, called it an “assassination” and said Americans should not casually accept such violence against U.S. citizens, even those with strong ties to terrorism

But most other top Republicans running for Obama’s job saw little downside in praising the president for his role.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry congratulated Obama, along with the military and intelligence agencies, for “aggressive anti-terror policies.” Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney commended the president for his efforts to keep Americans safe and said al-Awlaki’s death was a “major victory” in the terrorism fight.

With the first nominating contests about three months away, foreign policy and terrorism have been virtually absent from the Republican race. When the issues have arisen, most GOP contenders have tried to portray the president as a weak leader. It’s a sentiment they hope taps into voters’ frustration with the economy.

Bruce Jones, an expert on transnational threats, said Obama‘s success against terrorist leaders may help counter that GOP strategy.

“At the very least, it takes away from the critics the idea that he can’t lead, that he doesn’t understand those kinds of issues,” said Jones, also a senior foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.

Beyond the counterterrorism efforts, Obama aides say they believe the president will get credit come Election Day for his foreign policy achievements in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, as well as for his support of other democratic uprisings throughout the Arab world. They say the president has boosted U.S. standing in the world, making it easier to get international backing for his policies, rather than having to go it alone.

But there is some concern among Obama backers that a foreign policy issue most likely to find a place in the 2012 campaign is one that has achieved little success: securing peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

On that vexing issue, Obama finds himself caught between Republicans and some Jewish voters painting him as anti-Israel, and much of the world community, which disagrees with his opposition to Palestinian efforts to seek statehood recognition at the United Nations.

 

Sosurce Associated Press

Hispanic students vanish from Alabama schools

In Hispanic, Illegal Immigration, News on October 1, 2011 at 10:00 am

Mothers arrive to pick up their children from Flowers School in Montgomery, Ala., Friday, Sept. 30, 2011. Hispanic students have started vanishing from Alabama public schools in the wake of a court ruling that upheld the state's tough new law cracking down on illegal immigration. Education officials say scores of immigrant families have withdrawn their children from classes or kept them home this week, afraid that sending the kids to school would draw attention from authorities. In Montgomery County, more than 200 Hispanic students were absent the morning after the judge's Wednesday ruling. A handful withdrew. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

By JAY REEVES, AP

Hispanic students have started vanishing from Alabama public schools in the wake of a court ruling that upheld the state’s tough new law cracking down on illegal immigration.

Education officials say scores of immigrant families have withdrawn their children from classes or kept them home this week, afraid that sending the kids to school would draw attention from authorities.

There are no precise statewide numbers. But several districts with large immigrant enrollments — from small towns to large urban districts — reported a sudden exodus of children of Hispanic parents, some of whom told officials they planned to leave the state to avoid trouble with the law, which requires schools to check students’ immigration status.

The anxiety has become so intense that the superintendent in one of the state’s largest cities, Huntsville, went on a Spanish-language television show Thursday to try to calm widespread worries.

“In the case of this law, our students do not have anything to fear,” Casey Wardynski said in halting Spanish. He urged families to send students to class and explained that the state is only trying to compile statistics.

Police, he insisted, were not getting involved in schools.

Victor Palafox graduated from a high school in suburban Birmingham last year and has lived in the United States without documentation since age 6, when his parents brought him and his brother here from Mexico.

“Younger students are watching their lives taken from their hands,” said Palafox, whose family is staying put.

In Montgomery County, more than 200 Hispanic students were absent the morning after the judge’s Wednesday ruling. A handful withdrew.

In tiny Albertville, 35 students withdrew in one day. And about 20 students in Shelby County, in suburban Birmingham, either withdrew or told teachers they were leaving.

Local and state officials are pleading with immigrant families to keep their children enrolled. The law does not ban anyone from school, they say, and neither students nor parents will be arrested for trying to get an education.

But many Spanish-speaking families aren’t waiting around to see what happens.

A school worker in Albertville — a community with a large poultry industry that employs many Hispanic workers — said Friday that many families might leave town over the weekend for other states. About 22 percent of the community’s 4,200 students are Hispanic.

“I met a Hispanic mother in the hallway at our community learning center this morning, where enrollment and withdrawal happens. She looked at me with tears in her eyes. I asked, `Are you leaving?’ She said `Yes,’ and hugged me, crying,” said the worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not an authorized spokeswoman.

In Russellville, which has one of the largest immigrant populations in the state because of its poultry plants, overall school attendance was down more than 2 percent after the ruling, and the rate was higher among Hispanic students.

There’s “no firm data yet, but several students have related to their teachers that they may be moving soon,” said George Harper, who works in the central office.

Schools in Baldwin County, a heavily agricultural and tourist area near the Gulf Coast, and in Decatur in the Tennessee Valley also reported sudden decreases in Hispanic attendance.

The law does not require proof of citizenship to enroll, and it does not apply to any students who were enrolled before Sept. 1. While most students are not affected, school systems are supposed to begin checking the status of first-time enrollees now.

The Obama administration filed court documents Friday announcing its plans to appeal the ruling that upheld the law.

The state has distributed to schools sample letters that can be sent to parents of new students informing them of the law’s requirements for either citizenship documents or sworn statements by parents.

In an attempt to ease suspicions that the law may lead to arrests, the letter tells parents immigration information will be used only to gather statistics.

“Rest assured,” the letter states, “that it will not be a problem if you are unable or unwilling to provide either of the documents.”

Source: Associated Press

 

Census: Hispanics fuel US white population growth

In News, U.S. Census on September 30, 2011 at 10:00 am

By HOPE YEN, AP

In a twist to notions of race identity, new 2010 census figures show an unexpected reason behind a renewed growth in the U.S. white population: more Hispanics listing themselves as white in the once-a-decade government count.

The shift is due to recent census changes that emphasize “Hispanic” as an ethnicity, not a race. While the U.S. government first made this distinction in 1980, many Latinos continued to use the “some other race” box to establish a Hispanic identity. In a switch, the 2010 census forms specifically instructed Latinos that Hispanic origins are not races and to select a recognized category such as white or black.

The result: a 6 percent increase in white Americans as tallied by the census, even though there was little change among non-Hispanic whites. In all, the number of people in the “white alone” category jumped by 12.1 million over the last decade to 223.6 million. Based on that definition, whites now represent 72 percent of the U.S. population and account for nearly half of the total population increase since 2000.

Broken down by state, California and Texas were home to nearly half of Hispanics who identified as white, followed by Florida and New York. Together, these four states comprised nearly two-thirds of the “white alone” population who were Hispanic. Overall, Hialeah, Fla.; Fargo, N.D.; Arvada, Colo.; Billings, Mont., and Scottsdale, Ariz., posted the highest shares in the “white alone” category, at roughly 90 percent or more.

“The white population has become more diverse as evidenced by the growth of the Hispanic white population and the multiple-race white population,” including black-white and white-Asian people, according to the 2010 census analysis released Thursday.

Some demographers say the broadened white category in 2010 could lead to a notable semantic if not cultural shift in defining race and ethnicity. Due to the impact of Hispanics, the nation’s fastest-growing group, the Census Bureau has previously estimated that whites will become the minority in the U.S. by midcentury. That is based on a definition of whites as non-Hispanic, who are now at 196.8 million.

That could change, if the common conception of white were to shift.

“What’s white in America in 1910, 2010 or even 2011 simply isn’t the same,” said Robert Lang, sociology professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, citing the many different groups of European immigrants in the early 20th century who later became known collectively as white. He notes today that could mean a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant in upstate New York or Jews and Italians in the lowest East side of Manhattan.

Predicting a similar shift for Hispanics, Lang and others noted that mixed marriages are now more common between whites and Hispanics. U.S.-born Latino children of immigrants also are more likely than their parents to identify as white. “The definition of white has always been expansive,” he said. “I could see the census in 2030 or 2040 dropping the differentiation between Hispanics and whites.”

Roderick Harrison, a Howard University sociologist and former chief of racial statistics at the Census Bureau, agreed that growing numbers of second- and third-generation Hispanics may lose some of their cultural identity as they become more assimilated in the U.S. “Some portion might indeed become, for most social purposes, `white,'” he said.

The latest census figures also show the number of Americans who identified themselves as partly black and partly white more than doubled to 1.8 million. For the first time, the black-white combination is the most prevalent group among multiracial Americans, making up 1 in 5 members of that subgroup. They exceed the number of multiracials who identified as being white and “some other race,” composed of mostly Hispanics, as well as white-Asians and white-American Indians.

States in the South including South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama tripled their numbers of people identifying as a mix of black and white, mostly because their overall numbers are smaller. In those places, less than 3 percent of blacks identified that way — lower than the national average of 4.5 percent.

In raw numbers, states that had the biggest increases in the black-white category were California, Florida, Texas, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Some blacks who are partly white have been reluctant to openly embrace their white background, due to a strong black identity in their communities. Historically, several states previously had a “one drop” rule that classified whites with any African blood as black.

In the 2010 census, President Barack Obama was among those who identified himself only as African-American, even though his mother was white.

“There is no question that racial lines are blurring in the United States, especially among `new’ minorities — Hispanics, Asians and growing mixed race generations. Yet it’s particularly significant that we are seeing breakdowns in white-black separation,” said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. “Strong gains in interracial marriages and higher mixed-race identification among youth suggest that past racial categories will need to be radically changed or even dispensed with in the next two or three decades.”

The share of Hispanics identifying themselves as white increased over the past decade from 48 percent to 53 percent, while the proportion of those who marked “some other race” dropped from 42 percent to 37 percent. Many Hispanics previously preferred to check the “some other race” category to express their nationalities — such as Mexican or Cuban.

The Census Bureau has been examining different ways to count the nation’s demographic groups. One experiment is a possible change to the questionnaire that would effectively treat Hispanics as a mutually exclusive group. It would allow people to check off just one of five race or ethnic categories — white, black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander or American Indian/Alaska Native — rather than asking people who identify themselves as Hispanic to also check what race they are.

Other findings:

_The multiple-race white population, including black-whites and white-Asians, increased by at least 8 percent in every state, with the biggest gains in the South.

_The non-Hispanic white population declined in 15 states, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest.

_The majority of blacks, both non-Hispanic blacks and those in combination with Hispanics or other races, lived in the South. About 60 percent of their total population lived in 10 states — New York, Florida, Texas, Georgia, California, North Carolina, Illinois, Maryland, Virginia and Ohio. The biggest gains in blacks over the past decade occurred in Florida, Georgia, Texas and North Carolina.

_Cities with the highest share of blacks, both non-Hispanic and in combination with others, include Detroit at 84 percent. It was followed by Jackson, Miss., Miami Gardens, Fla., and Birmingham, Ala.

Source:  The Associated Press.

 

 
 
 
 

Election-year ruling looms for health overhaul

In Barak Obama, Health Care, News on September 29, 2011 at 9:49 am

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, 91, works in his office at the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011. His new book is titled "Five Chiefs: A Supreme Court Memoir," a personal reflection on the five chief justices he has known. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

By MARK SHERMAN, AP

President Barack Obama’s landmark health care overhaul appears headed for a Supreme Court ruling as the presidential election season hits full stride in the coming year.

The health care law affecting virtually every American is sure to figure prominently in President Barack Obama’s campaign for re-election. Republican contenders are already assailing it in virtually every debate and speech.

The administration on Wednesday formally appealed a ruling by the federal appeals court in Atlanta that struck down the law’s core requirement that Americans buy health insurance or pay a penalty beginning in 2014. The administration said the appeals court decision declaring the law’s central provision unconstitutional was “fundamentally flawed.”

At the same time, however, the winners in that appellate case, 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business, also asked for high court review Wednesday, saying the entire law, and not just the individual insurance mandate, should be struck down.

The Supreme Court almost always weighs in when a lower court has struck down all or part of a federal law, to say nothing of one that aims to extend insurance coverage to more than 30 million Americans.

The bigger question had been the timing.

The administration’s filing makes it more likely that the case will be heard and decided in the term that begins next week.

Repeating arguments it has made in courts across the country in response to many challenges to the law, the administration said Congress was well within its constitutional power to enact the insurance requirement.

Disagreeing with that, the 26 states and the business group said in their filings that the justices should act before the 2012 presidential election because of uncertainty over costs and requirements.

On the issue of timing, their cause got an unexpected boost from retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who said voters would be better off if they knew the law’s fate before casting their ballots next year.

The 91-year-old Stevens said in an Associated Press interview that the justices would not shy away from deciding the case in the middle of a presidential campaign and would be doing the country a service.

“It would be better to have that known about than be speculated as a part of the political argument,” Stevens said in his Supreme Court office overlooking the Capitol.

Though the Atlanta appeals court struck down the individual insurance requirement, it upheld the rest of the law. The states and the business group say that would still impose huge new costs.

In another challenge to the same law, the federal appeals court in Cincinnati sided with the administration.

In a separate Supreme Court filing Tuesday night, the Obama administration said it does not appear necessary to grant review of the Cincinnati case, adding that consolidating the two cases could complicate the presentation of arguments “without a sufficient corresponding benefit.”

The law would extend health coverage mainly through subsidies to purchase private insurance and an expansion of Medicaid. The states object to the Medicaid expansion and a provision forcing them to cover their employees’ health care at a level set by the government.

The individual insurance mandate “indisputably served as the centerpiece of the delicate compromise that produced” the law, according to the states, with Florida taking the lead.

The administration said in the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the law’s changes in the insurance market, including requiring insurers to cover people without regard for pre-existing health conditions, would not work without the participation mandate.

The insurance requirement is intended to force healthier people who might otherwise forgo insurance into the pool of insured, helping to reduce private insurers’ financial risk.

Both appeals stressed the importance of resolving the overhaul’s constitutionality as soon as possible, which under normal court procedures would be by June 2012.

Stevens said that if he still had a vote on the court on timing, he would cast it in favor of hearing the case sooner rather than later. He would not say how he would vote on the issue of the law’s constitutionality, although he said the court’s 6-3 decision in a 2005 case involving medical marijuana seems to lend support to the administration’s defense of the law.

In addition to the competing rulings on the law’s validity, a federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., ruled that it was premature to decide the law’s constitutionality. Citing a federal law aimed at preventing lawsuits from tying up tax collection, that court held that a definitive ruling could come only after taxpayers begin paying the penalty for not purchasing insurance. The administration suggested that the Supreme Court should consider that issue because of the appellate ruling.

The states, along with Florida, are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Source:  Associated Press.

 

 

 

 
 
 
 

Analysis: Democrats hit reset on health care

In Democrats, Health Care, News on September 27, 2011 at 9:31 am

FILE - In this May 25, 2011, file photo Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., center, with Majority Whip Dick Durbin D-Ill., left, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., partially obscured at right, speaks to media at the Capitol in Washington after the Senate voted down a budget plan from the Republican-majority House, that called for turning Medicare into a voucher-like program for future beneficiaries. Democrats are hitting the reset button on health care for next years elections. Weary of getting pounded over the new health overhaul law, President Barack Obama and his party are changing the subject to Medicare. Obama signaled last week hes on board with the shift. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, AP

Democrats are hitting the reset button on health care for next year’s elections.

Weary of getting pounded over the new health overhaul law, President Barack Obama and his party are changing the subject to Medicare.

Obama signaled last week he’s on board with the shift. His latest debt plan for Congress omitted an increase in the Medicare eligibility age, a proposal he’d put on the table in earlier discussions with House Speaker John Boehner. Gone was the consensus-seeking compromiser as Obama threatened to veto Medicare beneficiary cuts unless Congress also raises taxes on the rich.

Publicly, Republicans say bring it on. While they were nervous over the skeptical public reaction to their Medicare privatization plan this spring, they now insist they can hold their own in a debate. After all, Obama himself has publicly acknowledged Medicare is headed toward insolvency.

It’s hard to see anything but the economy mattering to voters in 2012, but Medicare may be different.

It’s perennially a top issue for older voters, who turn out more regularly than younger people.

Voters 60 and older have swung between Republican and Democratic candidates over the last six House elections, according to Robert Blendon, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health who tracks public opinion on health care.

“On the Medicare side, anything that looks like a major change in the existing program would be very threatening to whichever party is identified with it,” Blendon said.

In 2010, Democrats paid the price for using $500 billion in Medicare cuts to finance coverage for the uninsured under Obama’s health care overhaul. Older voters saw tapping Medicare as a threat, and they helped deliver the House to Republicans.

Democrats want to return the favor in 2012, and they believe the House-passed GOP budget gives them a way.

The plan by Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called for replacing Medicare for future retirees with a voucher-like payment. Current retirees — about 48 million beneficiaries — could still keep the Medicare they know. People now 54 and younger would use their government payment to pick from a range of regulated private insurance plans.

An analysis by the Congressional Budget Office found that within 20 years, 65-year-olds would on average be on the hook for more than two-thirds of their health care costs, almost a mirror-image of the financial split between current beneficiaries and Medicare.

As expected, the House plan went nowhere in the Democratic-led Senate.

No harm, no foul?

Not if Democrats have their way. Their message to seniors: The Ryan budget will become reality if the GOP wins the White House and full control of Congress.

“This is not a theoretical issue, it is a place where Republicans have taken votes that are very unpopular,” Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said. “It would be foolish of Democrats to waffle on this issue.”

The House budget would have also kept Obama’s Medicare cuts, the $500 billion that Republicans accused Obama of “raiding” the program for. And it would have repealed a provision of the health care law that is starting to bring down costs for seniors with high prescription drug bills.

Republicans say they’re not backing down. According to the top domestic policy expert for 2008 GOP presidential candidate John McCain, his party was right to take on Medicare, but the timing was off.

“The lesson of the House budget was that it’s premature to start offering solutions when you haven’t educated the American people on why you can’t sustain the status quo,” said economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, now president of the American Action Forum, a conservative public policy center.

Holtz-Eakin doesn’t think Republicans harmed themselves. The Medicare trustees, among other neutral parties, have provided ample evidence of the program’s long-term financial problems. If Obama and the Democrats are going to criticize Republicans for offering a solution, they have to spell out a fix of their own. And those fixes almost surely would require painful cuts for beneficiaries.

“If the status quo is untenable, and it is, then (Obama) has an obligation to produce some reforms,” said Holtz-Eakin. “Otherwise, he’s defending something that’s broken, and raiding it, to boot.”

The top GOP presidential candidates have jousted with one another over who would be quicker and more effective in overturning Obama’s health care law. Less clear is what they would do about Medicare.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann voted for the House budget, but she hints that as president she might make some changes to the plan.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been getting criticized for comparing Social Security to a Ponzi scheme. His stance on Medicare could prove just as controversial. A law he signed this year calls for the federal government to turn over Medicare and Medicaid to groups of states.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney praises the House GOP budget as an honest attempt to save Medicare. He says his own plan will differ but share the same objectives.

GOP candidates have the luxury now of playing to an audience of conservative primary voters, but Democratic pollster Lake says that won’t last.

“Cutting Medicare is a much more dicey proposition in the general election,” she said. “Medicare is popular even among the people who think it’s in trouble.”

The Associated Press.

 

 
 
 
 
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