Tuesday, 20 April 2010
Congress worked out health care. Is climate change next?

By Steven Pearlstein
Friday, April 16, 2010; A17


Six weeks ago, it looked as if there was no chance that Congress would approve climate change legislation this year.

The bill that had passed the House was so long, so complicated, so punitive to the coal-dependent Midwest economy, involved so many political compromises and so much money to be redistributed by the federal government, that it became the whipping boy of choice for conservative politicians and commentators.

Passage of health-care legislation, however, may have changed all that.

Democrats and their liberal supporters saw how much good could be accomplished by not allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. And Republicans and the business lobby were reminded of the concessions they could have won but didn't by their decision to abandon bipartisan compromise and instead try to kill the legislation altogether.

Now, thanks to the heroic efforts of two dogged senators -- Democrat John Kerry and Republican Lindsey Graham -- and the quiet support of the White House, there looks to be a 50-50 chance the Senate will pass a simpler and more moderate version of a bill this year that would begin to substantially reduce carbon emissions in the United States.

Many in the environmental community have come around to Kerry's view that this is the best shot they are going to have anytime soon at passing comprehensive energy and climate change legislation. And parts of the business community have come around to Graham's view that they can't afford another decade of uncertainty over regulatory issues, particularly with an activist Democrat in control of the regulatory agencies, just as they cannot afford to alienate an entire generation that has a keen interest in the environment and doesn't look kindly on their intransigence.

At this point, it's a bit of a stretch to call this a bipartisan compromise -- the bill that Kerry, Graham and independent Joe Lieberman are expected to introduce a week from Monday is likely to have no other Republican as an initial co-sponsor. But its terms have been crafted to appeal to a handful of Republican senators who, either out of personal belief or political necessity, are eager to find themselves on the right side of history.

They include: retiring senators such as George Voinovich of Ohio and Richard Lugar of Indiana, whose Midwestern states would fare even better under the Senate bill than the House-passed version; Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, who will surely like all of the goodies for the nuclear power industry included in the bill; Susan Collins of Maine, whose idea for rebating to consumers money collected by the government through the sale of carbon-emission rights to electric utilities and oil refiners is a central feature of the Senate compromise; and Scott Brown of Massachusetts, the newbie senator who so far has lived up to his promise to be an "independent" Republican.

Although the Senate bill retains the cap-and-trade structure of the House bill, it would apply, at least initially, only to electric power producers, with other manufacturers coming under the regime after 2016. The oil and gas industry would be handled under a separate regime that requires refiners to buy emissions permits for all the carbon contained in the gasoline or other fuels they sell -- in effect, a fee or tax on carbon. The amount of the fee would be determined by the price at which carbon emissions allowances are bought or sold by utilities on open exchanges. And while the fee would almost certainly be passed on to consumers in the form of higher fuel prices, most of it would be rebated through payroll and other tax credits. By paying more for energy and less for taxes, the idea is that Americans will use less energy and wind up with roughly the same amount of money to spend on everything else. Read more here.

A Complete List Of Bad Things Attributed To Global Warming

Hardly a day goes by that the media don't blame something on global warming. Or so it seems. The British-based science watchdog, Number Watch, wondered just how many and went to the trouble of documenting them.

It has kept on its Web site a near-comprehensive set of links to a long list of things attributed by either scientific research or the media to global warming. As you read it, some items will strike you as contradictory. Others, perhaps, as merely absurd. And still others as factually impossible.

However they strike you, in perusing the list one thing will become clear: just how much the fear of global warming has come to taint both science and news reporting on the issue.

Following is the list of phenomena (756 entries in all) linked at one time or another to warming. They range from acne, bubonic plague and a drop in circumcisions to Yellow fever, whale beachings, walrus stampedes, witchcraft executions and the threat of zebra mussels.

Actual links to stories that make the claims listed below can be found at http://www.numberwatch.co.uk/warmlist.htm. (Below the list are some claims that no longer have working Internet links.)  Read more here.

Posted on 04/20/2010 5:02 AM by Bobbie Patray
Sunday, 11 April 2010
What Kind of Attack Can Kill 70 to 90 Percent of Americans Within One Year?

1. What Kind of Attack Can Kill 70 to 90 Percent of Americans Within One Year?
2. America is Vulnerable to An Electromagnetic Pulse Attack
3. Don’t Let a Catastrophic Disaster Leave You Stranded Miles from Nowhere

1. What Kind of Attack Can Kill 70 to 90 Percent of Americans Within One Year?
When the power goes out, what’s the first thing we do?
Grab a flashlight. Search for batteries. Light some candles. Next, we worry about what’s in the fridge. If the power outage lasts for more than four hours, hundreds of dollars in food may be wasted. 
Cleaning out the fridge and replacing lost food is costly, messy and unpleasant. Fortunately, however, the lights do eventually come back on, and we can go about our daily lives. After an EMP attack, however, getting the power restored would take much, much longer.  
EMP stands for electromagnetic pulse. It’s a pulse that can be used as a weapon (most likely caused by blast of a nuclear weapon in the Earth’s atmosphere), and would destroy the critical infrastructure that Americans rely on. Specifically, an EMP, under the right conditions, is extremely damaging to electronics and the electric grid -- the system that keeps those refrigerators (and the food supply) running.   
Most Americans are used to fast, cheap and easy food options. McDonald’s, in fact, prides itself on a 90-second or less service time. And given our tendency to eat too much, it is odd to think about any American starving to death.
The impact of an EMP attack on America’s food supply, however, would be enormous. Food wouldn’t simply spoil, but delivering food and cooking it also would be problematic. Many Americans would struggle to survive.
You may not realize, but your grocery store carries very few foods from the local area. Strawberries are often from Mexico, oranges from Florida, and plums from California. For those curious,Ramen Noodles are made in Richmond, Virginia.
EMP, however, would take down the equipment that makes this system function. Besides problems getting food from place to place, preparing, baking, or cooking food would be difficult for both food production companies and everyday citizens. Remember the jalapeño salmonella outbreak in 2008? One small facility in Texas caused the outbreak. Swiftly, at least 1,251 people all over the nation got sick. Preventing food-borne illnesses would be difficult without needed refrigeration or necessary heat. Read more here.

2. America is Vulnerable to An Electromagnetic Pulse Attack

3. Don’t Let a Catastrophic Disaster Leave You Stranded Miles from Nowhere

It’s a sinking feeling. You’re miles from a gas station. The car’s fuel level has been on E for far too long. You’re not sure you’ll make it to the pump in time. Inevitably, its 120 degrees outside or pouring rain and the idea of pushing your car the rest of the way or leaving your fate to the nearest passerby leaves you in a panic.
Yes, it’s a massive inconvenience to run out of gas. In a natural disaster, though, gas shortages aren’t uncommon. They don’t necessarily halt the U.S. supply chain, at least not permanently – but a catastrophic disaster can snarl transportation nationwide. In fact, shortly after Hurricane Katrina, gas prices went up 40 percent – a real hit to drivers. The problem is that gas stations don’t have much fuel on hand. That’s partly for fire safety reasons and partly because of environmental regulations. Still, when demand skyrockets right before something like a hurricane, stations run out quickly and have to wait for a fresh supply.
But what if it was impossible to get additional supplies? In an EMP attack, where, for example, an enemy might choose to take down the electric grid by exploding a nuclear weapon high in the Earth’s atmosphere, the transportation system (and supply chain for that matter) would go haywire –making such a problem a reality. No amount of AAA auto protection would help – as EMP literally destroys the electric grid and the electronics functioning off of it.
Station pumps need electricity to operate and so do the refineries and other facilities that bring the fresh supplies. Try driving through a city like New York with no stoplights, or no lights at all for that matter.  
Even those more “environmentally-conscious” folks who pat themselves on the backs for their “greener” purchases would be stuck. Forget the hybrids (which rely on gasoline), forget the electric cars (duh), and forget the hydrogen vehicles, which also rely on electricity.
Transportation would be nearly impossible. No Amtrak, buses or subway. The impact of this would be large. For example, emergency responders need transportation to get the sick to the hospital (assuming one was functioning and that you could actually get in contact with 9-1-1 personnel). Ever take a 700 mile trek to a hospital? Probably not -- but that’s how long it could take to find one actually operating. The likelihood of making it on whatever was left in the gas tank would be slim.Read more here.
Posted on 04/11/2010 5:24 AM by Bobbie Patray
Sunday, 11 April 2010
Peace through weakness?

1.  Obama Officially Abandons Missile Defense in Europe
2.  Obama Bans Islam, Jihad From National Security Strategy Document
3.  Obama Limits When U.S. Would Use Nuclear Arms

1. Obama Officially Abandons Missile Defense in Europe

According to the Polish [1] daily [2], Gazeta Wyborcza, sources in the United States have confirmed that Obamathe Obama administration has made the decision to abandon our anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Unfortunately this news is not surprising at all. In March of this year it was revealed [3] that President Obama “secretly” offered Moscow a grand bargain whereby it would sacrifice missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic in exchange for Moscow’s help discouraging Iran’s nuclear program [4]. Then in his July summit [5] with Moscow, Obama reinforced his message that missile defense remains a bargaining chip that can exchanged for his college dream of a nuclear free world. This is a grave mistake for several reasons: Read more here.


2. Obama Bans Islam, Jihad From National Security Strategy Document

obama The change is a significant shift in the National Security Strategy, a document that previously outlined the Bush Doctrine of preventative war.


WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's advisers will remove religious terms such as "Islamic extremism" from the central document outlining the U.S. national security strategy and will use the rewritten document to emphasize that the United States does not view Muslim nations through the lens of terror, counterterrorism officials said.

The change is a significant shift in the National Security Strategy, a document that previously outlined the Bush Doctrine of preventative war and currently states: "The struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century."

The officials described the changes on condition of anonymity because the document still was being written, and the White House would not discuss it. But rewriting the strategy document will be the latest example of Obama putting his stamp on U.S. foreign policy, like his promises to dismantle nuclear weapons and limit the situations in which they can be used.

The revisions are part of a larger effort about which the White House talks openly, one that seeks to change not just how the United States talks to Muslim nations, but also what it talks to them about, from health care and science to business startups and education.

That shift away from terrorism has been building for a year, since Obama went to Cairo, Egypt, and promised a "new beginning" in the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world. The White House believes the previous administration based that relationship entirely on fighting terror and winning the war of ideas.

"You take a country where the overwhelming majority are not going to become terrorists, and you go in and say, 'We're building you a hospital so you don't become terrorists.' That doesn't make much sense," said National Security Council staffer Pradeep Ramamurthy.

Ramamurthy runs the administration's Global Engagement Directorate, a four-person National Security Council team that Obama launched last May with little fanfare and a vague mission to use diplomacy and outreach "in pursuit of a host of national security objectives."

Since then, the division has not only helped change the vocabulary of fighting terror but also has shaped the way the country invests in Muslim businesses, studies global warming, supports scientific research and combats polio.

Before diplomats go abroad, they hear from the Ramamurthy or his deputy, Jenny Urizar. When officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration returned from Indonesia, the NSC got a rundown about research opportunities on global warming.
Read more here.

3. Obama Limits When U.S. Would Use Nuclear Arms

WASHINGTON — President Obama said Monday that he was revamping American nuclear strategy to substantially narrow the conditions under which the United States would use nuclear weapons.

But the president said in an interview that he was carving out an exception for “outliers like Iran and North Korea” that have violated or renounced the main treaty to halt nuclear proliferation.

Discussing his approach to nuclear security the day before formally releasing his new strategy, Mr. Obama described his policy as part of a broader effort to edge the world toward making nuclear weapons obsolete, and to create incentives for countries to give up any nuclear ambitions. To set an example, the new strategy renounces the development of any new nuclear weapons, overruling the initial position of his own defense secretary.

Mr. Obama’s strategy is a sharp shift from those of his predecessors and seeks to revamp the nation’s nuclear posture for a new age in which rogue states and terrorist organizations are greater threats than traditional powers like Russia and China.

It eliminates much of the ambiguity that has deliberately existed in American nuclear policy since the opening days of the cold war. For the first time, the United States is explicitly committing not to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear states that are in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, even if they attacked the United States with biological or chemical weapons or launched a crippling cyberattack.

Those threats, Mr. Obama argued, could be deterred with “a series of graded options,” a combination of old and new conventional weapons. “I’m going to preserve all the tools that are necessary in order to make sure that the American people are safe and secure,” he said in the interview in the Oval Office.

White House officials said the new strategy would include the option of reconsidering the use of nuclear retaliation against a biological attack, if the development of such weapons reached a level that made the United States vulnerable to a devastating strike.

Mr. Obama’s new strategy is bound to be controversial, both among conservatives who have warned against diluting the United States’ most potent deterrent and among liberals who were hoping for a blanket statement that the country would never be the first to use nuclear weapons.

Mr. Obama argued for a slower course, saying, “We are going to want to make sure that we can continue to move towards less emphasis on nuclear weapons,” and, he added, to “make sure that our conventional weapons capability is an effective deterrent in all but the most extreme circumstances.”

The release of the new strategy, known as the Nuclear Posture Review, opens an intensive nine days of nuclear diplomacy geared toward reducing weapons. Mr. Obama plans to fly to Prague to sign a new arms-control agreement with Russia on Thursday and then next week will host 47 world leaders in Washington for a summit meeting on nuclear security.

The most immediate test of the new strategy is likely to be in dealing with Iran, which has defied the international community by developing a nuclear program that it insists is peaceful but that the United States and its allies say is a precursor to weapons. Asked about the escalating confrontation with Iran, Mr. Obama said he was now convinced that “the current course they’re on would provide them with nuclear weapons capabilities,” though he gave no timeline.

He dodged when asked whether he shared Israel’s view that a “nuclear capable” Iran was as dangerous as one that actually possessed weapons.

“I’m not going to parse that right now,” he said, sitting in his office as children played on the South Lawn of the White House at a daylong Easter egg roll. But he cited the example of North Korea, whose nuclear capabilities were unclear until it conducted a test in 2006, which it followed with a second shortly after Mr. Obama took office.

“I think it’s safe to say that there was a time when North Korea was said to be simply a nuclear-capable state until it kicked out the I.A.E.A. and become a self-professed nuclear state,” he said, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency. “And so rather than splitting hairs on this, I think that the international community has a strong sense of what it means to pursue civilian nuclear energy for peaceful purposes versus a weaponizing capability.”

Mr. Obama said he wanted a new United Nations sanctions resolution against Iran “that has bite,” but he would not embrace the phrase “crippling sanctions” once used by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. And he acknowledged the limitations of United Nations action. “We’re not naïve that any single set of sanctions automatically is going to change Iranian behavior,” he said, adding “there’s no light switch in this process.”  Read more here.
Posted on 04/11/2010 5:22 AM by Bobbie Patray
Sunday, 4 April 2010
The Jihadists Next Door

ideo: 'Jihad Jane'  Arrest: Muslims radicalised every day

1. Jihad Jane's' Arrest Raises Fears About Homegrown Terrorists

Experts Say Suburban Pennsylvania Woman Was Easy to Find, and There Could be More Like Her 

The arrest of a suburban Pennsylvania woman known by the alias Jihad Jane, who allegedly plotted with Islamic radicals abroad to kill a Swedish cartoonist, has raised fears about homegrown terrorists in the United States who may be difficult to spot.

"This woman might as well have advertised in the Washington Post," former White House counterterrorism official and ABC News consultant Richard Clarke said on "Good Morning America" today. "It was easy for the FBI to find her, but there are other people who are much more covert."

"There will likely be more attacks," Clarke said. "Hopefully, they will be small, and hopefully, we can catch them early." Colleen R. LaRose, 46, of Montgomery, Pa., was arrested in October 2009 and charged with trying to recruit Islamic fighters and plotting to assassinate a Swedish cartoonist who made fun of prophet Mohammed, according to a federal indictment unsealed Tuesday.

The FBI had kept the case secret while it looked for more suspects in the United States and abroad. The case was made public after seven men were arrested in Ireland this week, suspected of plotting to kill the Swedish cartoonist.

LaRose's case is rare, Clark said, but it shows the capability of international dissident groups to reach out to Americans via the Internet.

"This is a very rare case of a disturbed woman," he said, but it signifies how "the Internet not only allows them to communicate, it allows them to recruit."

Their persuasive speeches and sermons, which have been effective in recruiting men and women in the Middle East, are "beginning to work for some misfits in the United States," he said.

LaRose was arrested in Philadelphia Oct. 16, 2009, and has been in federal custody ever since, without bail. She has not entered a plea. If convicted, she faces a potential sentence of life in prison and a $1 million fine.

Her three federal public defender lawyers have yet to return calls from ABC News.

LaRose could easily fit the part of a soccer mom. She was described by neighbors as an average housewife.

"Oh, my God, unbelievable, I can't believe that," one neighbor told ABC News.

Another said the news was an "amazing, shocking surprise."

Clarke said there is likely a small group of people like LaRose. But their numbers are less of a concern than the idea that radical groups can convey their ideology via this "remote control through cyberspace," he said.

"I think it's very small but it doesn't have to be very large," he said. "So it's not so much a matter of size. It's the fact that it's going on."

Authorities said LaRose's U.S. citizenship and appearance made her appealing to the Islamic radicals she first contacted on the Internet.

"The terrorists figured out that they can't all look like Middle Eastern people, whether they be male or female," former FBI agent and ABC News consultant Brad Garrett said. "And so they've put a lot of time and energy particularly into the Internet, of recruiting people."

LaRose is better known to federal authorities as Fatima Rose or Jihad Jane. On June 20, 2008, LaRose allegedly posted a video on YouTube calling herself JihadJane and stating she was "desperate to do something somehow to help" ease the suffering of Muslims, according to news station WPVI.
Read more here.

2. Second US woman swept up in Jihad Jane murder claims

Americans forced to confront reality of possible home-grown extremism

By Stephen Foley in New York

A mother in small town America was last night struggling to understand how her daughter had been swept up in an alleged international plot to kill a Swedish cartoonist who angered Muslims by depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a dog.

The case of Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, a trainee nurse from Leadville in Colorado, who was arrested in Ireland last week, comes on the heels of charges against another American woman, Colleen LaRose from Philadelphia, who called herself "Jihad Jane".

Their twin stories are forcing the US to confront the reality of home-grown fundamentalism, and the ease with which individuals can be sucked into an online network of intolerance and violent conspiracy.

And in Leadville over the weekend, the parents of Ms Paulin-Ramirez, 31, were in no doubt that – despite the absence of official confirmation from investigating authorities in the US or Ireland – it was "Jihad Jane" who had recruited their daughter into the alleged plot to murder Lars Vilks.

"These terrorists came into my home through the internet, uninvited, and have ripped my family apart," Christine Mott told reporters.

Last night, it appeared that Ms Paulin-Ramirez had been released from custody in Ireland, and her family were seeking news of her six-year-old son with whom she travelled across the Atlantic last year, a few months after converting to Islam. The Algerian man she travelled to marry was believed to be among three of the seven detainees still in custody.

Growing up, Ms Paulin-Ramirez was "the kid in the class everyone picked on and made fun of," Ms Mott told the Associated Press. She was married three times before she left for Ireland, and her first husband used to beat her, she said. Her second husband, the six-year-old's father, was an illegal immigrant from Mexico and was deported years ago.

"I'd yell at her, 'Get off the computer, do something with your son'," Mrs Mott said, adding that her increasing extremism led to her estrangement from the family. "We were enemies. We couldn't even speak to each other. She lost her mind." The Algerian man was Ms LaRose's "main contact" in Europe, Ms Paulin-Ramirez's parents claimed. They had been able to speak regularly with their grandson, Christian, on the phone until the arrest last Tuesday, and had become increasingly angry with their daughter as he was taught how "Christians are going to burn in hellfire". His mother had changed his name to Walid after her conversion. Read more here.

3. The Jihadists Next Door

Posted 03/15/2010 06:42 PM ET

 Security: The arrests of three new homegrown terrorists, including two "Jihad Janes" and an al-Qaida suspect who infiltrated nuclear plants, confirm a rise in homegrown jihadist activity.

Sharif Mobley is one of the latest jihadists next door. Before he was rounded up in a sweep of suspected al-Qaida terrorists in Yemen, Mobley worked at five nuclear plants in New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania. He shot two guards, killing one, before his capture.

Mobley grew up in New Jersey before converting to Islam. His militancy shocked an old high school friend, who ran into him after returning from an Army tour in Iraq. Mobley told him: "Get the hell away from me, you Muslim killer!"

Then there's Colleen LaRose, aka Jihad Jane, who was arrested in Philadelphia for allegedly plotting to kill a Swedish cartoonist who'd "offended" Muslims. Jamie Paulin-Ramirez of Denver was also arrested in connection with the assassination plot.

All three suspects are U.S. citizens from different parts of the country. One is black, one white and one formerly married to a Hispanic immigrant. Two, shockingly, are women. While each suspect has a different background, all three are Muslim converts radicalized over the Internet — a dangerous trend.

American converts are al-Qaida's prime recruits right now, because they have a better chance of slipping through security checkpoints.

Many such as Mobley are flocking to Yemen, where another American turncoat, Anwar Awlaki, recruits Westerners via the Web. Awlaki allegedly recruited the crotch bomber from London, then trained him for his suicide mission in Yemen. He also advised the Fort Hood terrorist online.

LaRose is said to have recruited others online to kill the cartoonist. Her accomplice Paulin-Ramirez married an Algerian whom she met online. A straight-A nursing student, the 31-year-old mother of one spent much of her time surfing jihadist Web sites. Both women said they'd be willing to blow themselves up for Islam.

While the essential ingredient in these cases is militant Islam, we have to wonder if the left isn't making otherwise normal Americans vulnerable to such treasonous seductions. After all, the hate-America lobby — led by the American Civil Liberties Union and often cheered by the media — has comforted even the most guilty in the war on terror, including the 9/11 mastermind and other Gitmo detainees.

Take Omar Hammami. A smart American college kid who grew up Baptist in the Alabama suburbs, he's now an al-Qaida field commander in Somalia wanted by the FBI.

What happened? He became consumed with events in Iraq and Afghanistan and began subscribing to conspiracy theories about 9/11. He learned to hate his country, which he calls a legitimate "target" for attack. 

Islamic apologists in academia and the media keep trying to dismiss the radicalization trend, but they're whistling past the graveyard. A new Duke University study claims that "only" 139 Muslim Americans have been involved in terrorism since 9/11 (including 41, or 30%, in 2009 alone). 

But the report, which got a big splash in the media, is laughably incomplete. It omits some of the feds' most celebrated terrorist convictions. It also excludes any U.S. Muslims convicted of financing terror. And these are just the homegrown terrorists who got caught. How many others are out there? 

New Mexico-born Awlaki has 4,800 Facebook friends. He has thousands of followers in America. At mosques and Islamic bookstores across the country, they buy his sermons extolling jihad and "martyrdom." They're even sold as CD box sets. 

Homegrown terror is a signal event threatening homeland security, yet it seems to have caught Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano napping. She still sees white militia groups and anti-government extremists as the top threat. Nothing could be more wrong. 

Muslims see what's going on in their community. So why the conspiracy of silence? Why aren't self-proclaimed "moderate" Muslim groups and mosque leaders standing up and condemning this rampant jihadism in their midst?

After five young Virginia jihadists last year were caught training in Pakistan, Muslim leaders promised to speak out in a big way against such radicalization. It's been months. We're still waiting.
Source: http://www.investors.com/NewsAndAnalysis/Article.aspx?id=527364

Posted on 04/04/2010 6:08 AM by Bobbie Patray
Sunday, 4 April 2010
ID Card for Workers Is at Center of Immigration Plan

ID Card for Workers Is at Center of Immigration Plan

[0309border] Getty Images

Customs and Border Protection agent Jesus Gomez checks a passport at the vehicle crossing at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in California.

Lawmakers working to craft a new comprehensive immigration bill have settled on a way to prevent employers from hiring illegal immigrants: a national biometric identification card all American workers would eventually be required to obtain.

Under the potentially controversial plan still taking shape in the Senate, all legal U.S. workers, including citizens and immigrants, would be issued an ID card with embedded information, such as fingerprints, to tie the card to the worker.

The ID card plan is one of several steps advocates of an immigration overhaul are taking to address concerns that have defeated similar bills in the past.

The uphill effort to pass a bill is being led by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), who plan to meet with President Barack Obama as soon as this week to update him on their work. An administration official said the White House had no position on the biometric card.

"It's the nub of solving the immigration dilemma politically speaking," Mr. Schumer said in an interview. The card, he said, would directly answer concerns that after legislation is signed, another wave of illegal immigrants would arrive. "If you say they can't get a job when they come here, you'll stop it."

The biggest objections to the biometric cards may come from privacy advocates, who fear they would become de facto national ID cards that enable the government to track citizens.

"It is fundamentally a massive invasion of people's privacy," said Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. "We're not only talking about fingerprinting every American, treating ordinary Americans like criminals in order to work. We're also talking about a card that would quickly spread from work to voting to travel to pretty much every aspect of American life that requires identification."

Mr. Graham says he respects those concerns but disagrees. "We've all got Social Security cards," he said. "They're just easily tampered with. Make them tamper-proof. That's all I'm saying."

U.S. employers now have the option of using an online system called E-Verify to check whether potential employees are in the U.S. legally. Many Republicans have pressed to make the system mandatory. But others, including Mr. Schumer, complain that the existing system is ineffective.

Last year, White House aides said they expected to push immigration legislation in 2010. But with health care and unemployment dominating his attention, the president has given little indication the issue is a priority.

Rather, Mr. Obama has said he wanted to see bipartisan support in Congress first. So far, Mr. Graham is the only Republican to voice interest publicly, and he wants at least one other GOP co-sponsor to launch the effort. Read more here.

Obama backs senators' immigration overhaul outline

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama, facing criticism from advocates of immigration reform, pledged Thursday "to do everything in my power" to get immigration legislation moving in Congress this year.

Obama said work on an immigration bill should move forward based on an outline released Thursday by Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

"A critical next step will be to translate their framework into a legislative proposal, and for Congress to act at the earliest possible opportunity," Obama said.

The outline calls for illegal immigrants to admit they broke the law, pay a fine and back taxes, and perform community service if they want to get on a pathway to legal status. They would also be required to pass background checks and be proficient in English.

"I congratulate Sens. Schumer and Graham for their leadership, and pledge to do everything in my power to forge a bipartisan consensus this year on this important issue so we can continue to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform," Obama said.

Obama's statement and the senators' outline were timed for release before a march and rally Sunday that is expected to draw tens of thousands of people to Washington to press the administration and Congress for immigration reform.

Immigrants and their supporters have grown frustrated as the Obama administration has continued to detain and deport immigrants while immigration reform remains dormant. Obama had promised to make it a top priority in his first year in office.

Hoping to temper the percolating discontent, Obama held two separate meetings last week with grass-roots immigration leaders as well as Schumer and Graham. The president assured the leaders at the meeting that he remains committed to reform.

Obama met Thursday at the White House with Reps. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, the sponsors of a House immigration bill. Gutierrez said later he agreed to vote for Obama's signature domestic bill, health care reform, only if an immigration bill advanced quickly and with a presidential imprimatur. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus also endorsed the health care bill.

"I'm committed to voting for this health care bill on that basis," Gutierrez said. "I want the president to be in lockstep with us, which I believe he was during the campaign." Read more here.

The Snitch in Your Pocket

Law enforcement is tracking Americans' cell phones in real time—without the benefit of a warrant.

Published Feb 19, 2010

From the magazine issue dated Mar 1, 2010

Amid all the furor over the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program a few years ago, a mini-revolt was brewing over another type of federal snooping that was getting no public attention at all. Federal prosecutors were seeking what seemed to be unusually sensitive records: internal data from telecommunications companies that showed the locations of their customers' cell phones—sometimes in real time, sometimes after the fact. The prosecutors said they needed the records to trace the movements of suspected drug traffickers, human smugglers, even corrupt public officials. But many federal magistrates—whose job is to sign off on search warrants and handle other routine court duties—were spooked by the requests. Some in New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas balked. Prosecutors "were using the cell phone as a surreptitious tracking device," said Stephen W. Smith, a federal magistrate in Houston. "And I started asking the U.S. Attorney's Office, 'What is the legal authority for this? What is the legal standard for getting this information?' "

Those questions are now at the core of a constitutional clash between President Obama's Justice Department and civil libertarians alarmed by what they see as the government's relentless intrusion into the private lives of citizens. There are numerous other fronts in the privacy wars—about the content of e-mails, for instance, and access to bank records and credit-card transactions. The Feds now can quietly get all that information. But cell-phone tracking is among the more unsettling forms of government surveillance, conjuring up Orwellian images of Big Brother secretly following your movements through the small device in your pocket. 
How many of the owners of the country's 277 million cell phones even know that companies like AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint can track their devices in real time? Most "don't have a clue," says privacy advocate James X. Dempsey. The tracking is possible because either the phones have tiny GPS units inside or each phone call is routed through towers that can be used to pinpoint a phone's location to areas as small as a city block. This capability to trace ever more precise cell-phone locations has been spurred by a Federal Communications Commission rule designed to help police and other emergency officers during 911 calls. But the FBI and other law-enforcement outfits have been obtaining more and more records of cell-phone locations—without notifying the targets or getting judicial warrants establishing "probable cause," according to law-enforcement officials, court records, and telecommunication executives. (The Justice Department draws a distinction between cell-tower data and GPS information, according to a spokeswoman, and will often get warrants for the latter.)
Read more here.

Posted on 04/04/2010 6:06 AM by Bobbie Patray
Sunday, 4 April 2010
The VAT tax cometh?

Is The Value Added Tax Next?

As the night follows the day, the VAT cometh.

With the passage of Obamacare, creating a vast new middle-class entitlement, a national sales tax of the taxeskind near-universal in Europe is inevitable.

We are now $8 trillion in debt. The Congressional Budget Office projects that another $12 trillion will be added over the next decade. Obamacare, when stripped of its budgetary gimmicks -- the unfunded $200 billion-plus doctor fix, the double counting of Medicare cuts, the 10-6 sleight-of-hand (counting 10 years of revenue and only 6 years of outflows) -- is at minimum a $2 trillion new entitlement.

It will vastly increase the debt. But even if it were revenue-neutral, Obamacare pre-empts and appropriates for itself the best and easiest means of reducing the existing deficit. Obamacare's $500 billion of cuts in Medicare and $600 billion in tax hikes are no longer available for deficit reduction. They are siphoned off for the new entitlement of insuring the uninsured.

This is fiscally disastrous because, as President Obama himself explained last year in unveiling his grand transformational policies, our unsustainable fiscal path requires control of entitlement spending, the most ruinous of which is out-of-control health care costs.

Obamacare was sold on the premise that, as Nancy Pelosi put it, "health care reform is entitlement reform. Our budget cannot take this upward spiral of cost." But the bill enacted on Tuesday accelerates the spiral: It radically expands Medicaid (adding 15 million new recipients/dependents) and shamelessly raids Medicare by spending on a new entitlement the $500 billion in cuts and the yield from the Medicare tax hikes.

Obama knows that the debt bomb is looming, that Moody's is warning that the Treasury's AAA rating is in jeopardy, that we are headed for a run on the dollar and/or hyperinflation if nothing is done.

Hence his deficit reduction commission. It will report (surprise!) after the November elections.

What will it recommend? What can it recommend? Sure, Social Security can be trimmed by raising the retirement age, introducing means testing and changing the indexing formula from wage growth to price inflation.

But this won't be nearly enough. As Obama has repeatedly insisted, the real money is in health care costs -- which are now locked in place by the new Obamacare mandates. Read more here.

Once Considered Unthinkable, U.S. Sales Tax Gets Fresh Look

Levy Viewed as Way to Reduce Deficits, Fund Health Reform

taxesWith budget deficits soaring and President Obama pushing a trillion-dollar-plus expansion of health coverage, some Washington policymakers are taking a fresh look at a money-making idea long considered politically taboo: a national sales tax.

Common around the world, including in Europe, such a tax -- called a value-added tax, or VAT -- has not been seriously considered in the United States. But advocates say few other options can generate the kind of money the nation will need to avert fiscal calamity.

At a White House conference earlier this year on the government's budget problems, a roomful of tax experts pleaded with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to consider a VAT. A recent flurry of books and papers on the subject is attracting genuine, if furtive, interest in Congress. And last month, after wrestling with the White House over the massive deficits projected under Obama's policies, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee declared that a VAT should be part of the debate.

"There is a growing awareness of the need for fundamental tax reform," Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said in an interview. "I think a VAT and a high-end income tax have got to be on the table."

A VAT is a tax on the transfer of goods and services that ultimately is borne by the consumer. Highly visible, it would increase the cost of just about everything, from a carton of eggs to a visit with a lawyer. It is also hugely regressive, falling heavily on the poor. But VAT advocates say those negatives could be offset by using the proceeds to pay for health care for every American -- a tangible benefit that would be highly valuable to low-income families.
Read more here.

Corporate Debt Coming Due May Squeeze Credit

When the Mayans envisioned the world coming to an end in 2012 — at least in the Hollywood telling — they didn’t count junk bonds among the perils that would lead to worldwide disaster.


Maybe they should have, because 2012 also is the beginning of a three-year period in which more than $700 billion in risky, high-yield corporate debt begins to come due, an extraordinary surge that some analysts fear could overload the debt markets.

With huge bills about to hit corporations and the federal government around the same time, the worry is that some companies will have trouble getting new loans, spurring defaults and a wave of bankruptcies.

The United States government alone will need to borrow nearly $2 trillion in 2012, to bridge the projected budget deficit for that year and to refinance existing debt.

Indeed, worries about the growth of national, or sovereign, debt prompted Moody’s Investors Service to warn on Monday that the United States and other Western nations were moving “substantially” closer to losing their top-notch Aaa credit ratings.

Sovereign debt aside, the approaching scramble for corporate financing could strain the broader economy as jobs are cut, consumer spending is scaled back and credit is tightened for both consumers and businesses.

The apocalyptic talk is not limited to perpetual bears and the rest of the doom-and-gloom crowd.

Even Moody’s, which is known for its sober public statements, is sounding the alarm.

“An avalanche is brewing in 2012 and beyond if companies don’t get out in front of this,” said Kevin Cassidy, a senior credit officer at Moody’s.

Private equity firms and many nonfinancial companies were able to borrow on easy terms until the credit crisis hit in 2007, but not until 2012 does the long-delayed reckoning begin for a series of leveraged buyouts and other deals that preceded the crisis.

That is because the record number of bonds and loans that were issued to finance those transactions typically come due in five to seven years, said Diane Vazza, head of global fixed-income research at Standard & Poor’s.
Read more here.

Posted on 04/04/2010 6:04 AM by Bobbie Patray
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