Executive Branch

White House Draft Memo would require federal agencies to reveal special funding requests from members of Congress

November 7, 2011

“In a move that could escalate hostilities with Congress, President Obama may be planning to use his executive authority to publicize special funding requests that lawmakers make for pet projects.
A memo that the White House has floated on Capitol Hill would require executive branch agencies to make public any letter from a member of Congress seeking special consideration for any project or organization vying for government funding.”

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As Obama begins his nine-day trip to visit Asia-Pacific leaders, Washington prepares for a battle over budgets, taxes, spending, and debt

November 7, 2011

“President Barack Obama’s efforts next week to persuade Asia-Pacific leaders of his commitment to the region may be undercut by distractions in Washington, where budget fights may come to a head while he is away.
Obama embarks on a nine-day trip to Hawaii, Australia and Indonesia on Friday that he will use to highlight U.S.-Asian economic ties and the long-standing U.S. role in the region’s security.
His absence from Washington will coincide with a deadline for Congress to avoid a government shutdown and a pivotal stretch of deficit-cutting negotiations that investors and credit rating agencies will be watching closely.
White House officials said Obama has diplomatic goals he hopes to advance at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit that he will host in Honolulu on November 12-13 and during his visits to Canberra, Darwin and Bali.
But there is speculation he could face pressure to cut the trip short to rush back to Washington for the budget crunch-time and to avoid criticism that he failed to step up if the negotiations start to go off track.
“There is pressure here not to do the trip,” said Ernest Bower of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, who said Obama was facing the political reality that “it’s always better to be in Indiana than Indonesia.”

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America now has the largest wealth gap between old and young persons on record

November 7, 2011

“Older Americans weathered the economic storm considerably better than their younger counterparts, contributing to the largest wealth gap on record.

Households headed by those 65 or older had a median net worth 47 times greater than those headed by a person under 35, according to an analysis of 2009 U.S. Census data by the Pew Research Center.

That amounts to a median net worth of $170,494 for those 65 and older, compared with just $3,662 for those in the younger generation, according to the analysis.

Saddled with debt and stagnant wages, the younger generation tends to be marrying later and entering job markets later. They’re also more likely to be minorities and single parents, experts said.”

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Defense Secretary Panetta considering military spending cuts once thought ‘inconceivable’

November 7, 2011

“Under orders to cut the Pentagon budget by more than $450 billion over the next decade, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is considering reductions in spending categories once thought sacrosanct, especially in medical and retirement benefits, as well as further shrinking the number of troops and reducing new weapons purchases.

Panetta, a former White House budget chief, acknowledged in an interview that he faced deep political pressures as he weighed cuts to Pentagon spending, which has doubled to $700 billion a year since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He said that meeting deficit-reduction targets might require another round of base closings, which could be highly contentious as members of Congress routinely fight to protect military deployments and jobs in their communities.

Among other steps, Panetta said, Pentagon strategists were looking at additional cuts in the nuclear arsenal, with an eye toward determining how many warheads the military needed to deter attacks.

Panetta also held out the possibility of cutting the number of U.S. troops based in Europe, with the United States compensating for any withdrawal by helping NATO allies improve their militaries. That effort would free up money so the United States could maintain or increase its forces in Asia, a high priority for the White House, and sustain a presence in the Persian Gulf after the withdrawal from Iraq this year, he said.

Panetta spoke less than three weeks before a special bipartisan committee is supposed to produce a far-reaching deficit-reduction plan. If the committee deadlocks and fails to find $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions, then automatic cuts go into effect and the Pentagon could face an estimated $500 billion in additional reductions over the next decade.

Panetta has called those additional cuts potentially ruinous. In that view, he has allies in Congress, especially Republicans on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, who are preparing legislation that would undo the automatic across-the-board cuts for military programs, or exchange them for cuts in other areas of the federal budget. The defense secretary’s stated views could well put more pressure on the committee to come up with a deal.”

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U.S. Census Bureau: Highest level of extreme poverty since agency began measuring poverty in 1964

November 6, 2011

“According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a higher percentage of Americans is living in extreme poverty than they have ever measured before. In 2010, we were told that the economy was recovering, but the truth is that the number of the “very poor” soared to heights never seen previously. Back in 1993 and back in 2009, the rate of extreme poverty was just over 6 percent, and that represented the worst numbers on record. But in 2010, the rate of extreme poverty hit a whopping 6.7 percent. That means that one out of every 15 Americans is now considered to be “very poor”. For many people, this is all very confusing because their guts are telling them that things are getting worse and yet the mainstream media keeps telling them that everything is just fine. Hopefully this article will help people realize that the plight of the poorest of the poor continues to deteriorate all across the United States. In addition, hopefully this article will inspire many of you to lend a hand to those that are truly in need.”

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During Obama’s tenure, big banks have become bigger and Wall Street has profited more under Obama than it did under the entire Bush administration

November 6, 2011

“President Obama calls people who work on Wall Street “fat cat bankers” and his reelection campaign will try to harness public frustration with Wall Street. Financial executives, for their part, say the president’s pursuit of new financial regulations are punitive and “holding us back.”

But both sides face an inconvenient fact. During Obama’s tenure, Wall Street has roared back even as the larger economy has struggled.

The largest banks are larger today than when Obama took office and are returning to the level of profits they were making before the depths of the financial crisis in 2008, according to government data.

Wall Street firms — either independent companies or the high-flying trading arms of banks — are doing even better. They’ve made more profit in the first 21 / 2 years of the Obama administration than they did during the entire Bush administration, industry data show.

Behind this turnaround are government policies that saved the financial sector from collapse and then gave banks and other financial firms huge advantages on the path to recovery. For example, the federal government invested hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars in banks, money that the firms used for risky investments on which they made huge profits.”

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U.S. Department of Energy: 2010 Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide levels exceed “worst case scenario” outlined by climate experts 4 years ago

November 6, 2011

“The global output of heat-trapping carbon dioxide jumped by the biggest amount on record, the U.S.Department of Energy calculated, a sign of how feeble the world’s efforts are at slowing man-made global warming.

The new figures for 2010 mean that levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst case scenario outlined by climate experts just four years ago.

“The more we talk about the need to control emissions, the more they are growing,” said John Reilly, co-director of MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change.

The world pumped about 564 million more tons (512 million metric tons) of carbon into the air in 2010 than it did in 2009. That’s an increase of 6 percent. That amount of extra pollution eclipses the individual emissions of all but three countries — China, the United States and India, the world’s top producers of greenhouse gases.

It is a “monster” increase that is unheard of, said Gregg Marland, a professor of geology at Appalachian State University, who has helped calculate Department of Energy figures in the past.

Extra pollution in China and the U.S. account for more than half the increase in emissions last year, Marland said.”

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U.S. State Department urges China to correct “counter-productive” policies in Tibet

November 6, 2011

“The United States on Friday urged China to correct “counter-productive policies” in Tibetan areas, saying it was concerned by a spate of Tibetan self-immolations that have underscored tensions over Beijing’s rule.

At least 11 ethnic Tibetans have burned themselves to death this year in southwest China, a region that has become the centre of defiance against strict Chinese control.

The latest Chinese case occurred on Thursday when a Tibetan nun set herself on fire in Sichuan province, the Xinhua news agency said. Another Tibetan suffered burns to his legs on Friday when he set himself on fire outside the Chinese embassy in India.”

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Top U.S. General in Afghanistan relieved of duties after “inappropriate public comments” when he called the Afghan government “isolated from reality” and President Karzai “erratic”

November 6, 2011

“A top U.S. general in Afghanistan was relieved of duty Friday for “inappropriate public comments” after calling the Afghan government “isolated from reality” and President Hamid Karzai “erratic.”

Maj. Gen. Peter Fuller, deputy commander for training Afghan security forces, blasted the Afghan government, military and Karzai in an interview with POLITICO published on Thursday.

He called Karzai “erratic” for recently saying Afghanistan would side with Pakistan if the latter declared war on the U.S.

“Why don’t you just poke me in the eye with a needle!,” Fuller was quoted as saying. “You’ve got to be kidding me … I’m sorry, we just gave you $11.6 billion and now you’re telling me, ‘I don’t really care’?”

Fuller also said he had trouble explaining to Afghan officials that Western funds were limited. “You guys are isolated from reality” he said he told Afghan generals. “If you’re in a very poor country like Afghanistan, you think that America has roads paved in gold, everybody lives in Hollywood.”

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Consumer Group asks Federal Election Commission to investigate allegations that Herman Cain received illegal campaign funds from a Conservative group backed by Koch Industries

November 6, 2011

“The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics consumer group in Washington said it filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission seeking a probe of a report alleging that tens of thousands of dollars in illegal contributions were made to Cain’s campaign earlier this year by outside political groups.

Officials for the Cain campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Corporations, including those that are not-for-profit, are not allowed to donate to presidential candidates. Only individuals and political action committees can give, and such contributions are limited.”

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U.S. Census Bureau makes changes to the definition of Poverty and the Poverty Line

November 6, 2011

“Until this month, the poverty line has been calculated the same way for half a century. It was developed in 1964 as part of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Ever since, a debate has ensued about how to determine who’s truly poor.

What’s the controversy? For starters, the original poverty line is pegged to only one thing: food costs as a share of annual income. But now, the Census Bureau will count other factors that might drive people into poverty, says Tim Smeeding, director of the Institute for Research and Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. These include, say, medical expenses and the higher rents in Manhattan versus Memphis. It also will take into account what the US government provides people to fight poverty, including food stamps, public housing, and refundable tax credits, Mr. Smeeding adds.

The new benchmark for poverty to be unveiled Nov. 7 – which has the catchy name of “the supplemental poverty measure” – also expands the definition of a family. Back in the ’60s, it was two adults and two children. Now, it is allowed that a single parent might be at the helm of a family.

The old poverty measurement won’t go away. For continuity’s sake, it’s useful to have the year-over-year, decade-over-decade comparison. But experts say the new supplemental poverty measure will offer a clearer window on the poor.”

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White House rejects the subpoena request by the House Energy and Commerce Committee for document related to Solyndra

November 5, 2011

President Obama’s attorney sent a letter to Congressional investigators on Friday, saying the White House would not cooperate with a subpoena requesting documents related to its doling out a $535 million loan guarantee to now bankrupt solar panel manufacturer Solyndra.

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FEMA to test nationwide Emergency Alert System on November 9th at 2:00 PM Eastern Time for 30 seconds

November 4, 2011

“The Federal Emergency Management Agency today notified participants in the upcoming nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System that it will run just 30 seconds rather than two-and-a-half minutes as originally planned.

The test, scheduled for Nov. 9 at 2 p.m. Eastern, will be the first official test of a Presidential Emergency Action Notification. All broadcast radio and TV stations must take part in the tests along with participating cable and satellite operators. The national alert system relies on a daisy-chain architecture whereby the EAN is transmitted to designated radio stations that are monitored by State Primaries, which in turn retransmit the alert to Local Primaries that notify all other broadcast and cable participants. The United States is divided into 550 local EAS areas, each with at least two Local Primaries monitoring two sources for presidential alerts. A single failure within the system can leave hundreds of participants out of the loop.”

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CIA Facility gathering information from Facebook, Twitter, newspapers, TV & all other public content set-up after 9/11 Commission

November 4, 2011

“At the agency’s Open Source Center, a team known affectionately as the “vengeful librarians” also pores over Facebook, newspapers, TV news channels, local radio stations, Internet chat rooms — anything overseas that anyone can access and contribute to openly.

From Arabic to Mandarin Chinese, from an angry tweet to a thoughtful blog, the analysts gather the information, often in native tongue. They cross-reference it with the local newspaper or a clandestinely intercepted phone conversation. From there, they build a picture sought by the highest levels at the White House, giving a real-time peek, for example, at the mood of a region after the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden or perhaps a prediction of which Mideast nation seems ripe for revolt.

Yes, they saw the uprising in Egypt coming; they just didn’t know exactly when revolution might hit, said the center’s director, Doug Naquin.

The center already had “predicted that social media in places like Egypt could be a game-changer and a threat to the regime,” he said in a recent interview with The Associated Press at the center. CIA officials said it was the first such visit by a reporter the agency has ever granted.

The CIA facility was set up in response to a recommendation by the 9/11 Commission, with its first priority to focus on counterterrorism and counterproliferation. But its several hundred analysts — the actual number is classified — track a broad range, from Chinese Internet access to the mood on the street in Pakistan.”

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U.S. State Department providing “party training” for ALL political parties in Egypt for the upcoming elections

November 4, 2011

“U.S. assistance to Egypt is helping political parties of all ideologies prepare for the upcoming elections — even Islamic parties that may have anti-Western agendas.
“We don’t do party support. What we do is party training…. And we do it to whoever comes,”William Taylor, the State Department’s director of its new office for Middle East Transitions, said in a briefing with reporters today. “Sometimes, Islamist parties show up, sometimes they don’t. But it has been provided on a nonpartisan basis, not to individual parties.”

The programs, contracted through the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI), include helping political parties in Egypt conduct polling, provide constituent services, and prepare for election season. NDI’s chairwoman is former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. IRI’s chairman is Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)”

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