Congressional ‘Earmarks’ Down by One-Third

The 2010 federal spending bills disclose $10.2 billion for pet projects inserted by members of Congress, a drop of nearly a third since 2008, an analysis of the bills shows. The 9,297 “earmarks” reported in spending legislation for 2010 were down from 11,282 reported for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to data compiled by the non-partisan watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense. The 2009 earmarks were worth $14.3 billion. Still, the spending bills contain billions of dollars for other special-interest programs that aren’t reported as earmarks, says Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense. Ellis said his group found $4.9 billion worth of such undisclosed funding in last year’s spending bills, for example, but hasn’t finished its analysis of the latest bills.

  • While it’s good that earmarks are down, it’s still reprehensible that over $10 billion is being spent on lawmakers’ pet projects – especially during a severe recession

Where’s the Transparency & Bipartisanship?

President Obama and congressional Democrats head into another strategy session Wednesday over health care reform after deciding Tuesday night to keep the final negotiations as GOP-free as possible by bypassing the traditional conference committee process.  The White House and Democratic leaders in Congress decided to keep the last leg of talks a closed-door affair. Obama is expected to meet with top House Democrats Wednesday afternoon, as they craft strategy well before Congress returns. The aim is to get a final bill to Obama’s desk before the State of the Union policy address sometime in early February. 

Obama to Give Illegals Health Care with Amnesty?

A report from the nation’s capital suggests the White House is working on a deal that would offer immigration reform advocates citizenship for illegal aliens in exchange for support of the health care bill. In November, Roll Call reported that Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., warned President Obama that the 20 members of her caucus would fight health care reform unless it covered illegal immigrants. The president, however, had pledged earlier that illegal aliens would not be covered – a promise that prompted Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., to shout, “You lie!” The Senate version of health care reform, indeed, bars illegal immigrants from coverage, a point that could prove sticky in negotiations with the House’s Hispanic Caucus members in seeking a final version of the bill. Now, however, Talking Points Memo’s D.C. division reports that immigration advocates may be willing to back health care if the president will promise a 2010 push for immigration reform that provides health care coverage for illegals who are granted citizenship.

Americans Slow Spending on Health Care

A decades-long boom in spending on doctors, hospitals and drugs slowed in 2008 to its lowest level, even as health care costs accounted for a greater share of the nation’s economy, the federal government said in a report released Tuesday. Health care spending rose 4.4% in 2008 to $2.3 trillion, or $7,681 per person, the smallest increase since the spending was first tracked in 1960, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The report suggests the down economy forced Americans to go without care. The report also shows private insurance premiums rose 3.1% in 2008.

Americans’ Job Satisfaction Falls to Record Low

Even Americans who are lucky enough to have work in this economy are becoming more unhappy with their jobs, according to a new survey that found only 45% of Americans are satisfied with their work. That was the lowest level ever recorded by the Conference Board research group in more than 22 years of studying the issue. In 2008, 49% of those surveyed reported satisfaction with their jobs. The drop in workers’ happiness can be partly blamed on the worst recession since the 1930s, which has made it difficult for some people to find challenging and suitable jobs. But worker dissatisfaction has been on the rise for more than two decades. Workers have grown steadily more unhappy for a variety of reasons: fewer workers consider their jobs to be interesting; incomes have not kept up with inflation; and the soaring cost of health insurance has eaten into workers’ take-home pay.

Federal Reserve Wants More Power?

If only we’d had more power, we could have kept the financial crisis from getting so bad. That has been the position of Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, and other regulators. So let’s consider what an empowered Fed might have done during the housing bubble, based on the words of the people who were running it, notes the New York Times. In 2004, Alan Greenspan, then the chairman, said the rise in home values was “not enough in our judgment to raise major concerns.” In 2005, Mr. Bernanke — then a Bush administration official — said a housing bubble was “a pretty unlikely possibility.” As late as May 2007, he said that Fed officials “do not expect significant spillovers from the subprime market to the rest of the economy.” The fact that Mr. Bernanke and other regulators still have not explained why they failed to recognize the last bubble is the weakest link in the Fed’s push for more power. It raises the question: Why should Congress, or anyone else, have faith that future Fed officials will recognize the next bubble?

  • The only people who want the Fed to have more power and control are those aligned with the New World Order

States Braced to Tighten 2010 Belts

States across the nation begin the year facing grim budget shortfalls that could mean a repeat of the service cuts, layoffs or furloughs and higher fees imposed in 2009 States passed fiscal 2010 general-fund budgets totaling $627.9 billion, 5.4% less than a year earlier, says a study released last month by the National Association of State Budget Officers and National Governors Association. Despite cuts, shortfalls for the 2010 fiscal year, which in most states began July 1, are $14.8 billion, the study says. The gap in 2011: $21.9 billion. One of the big challenges for (this) year is that states have done most of the easy things. Another problem: Federal stimulus funds, which helped fill gaps, will soon begin to expire. Every state except Montana and North Dakota still faces budget shortfalls for fiscal year 2010. California has a $6.3 billion projected shortfall for the current fiscal year and a $14.4 billion gap in its next budget.

Arizona $37 billion in Debt Despite Constitutional Debt Limits

The State of Arizona has taken on an unprecedented amount of debt, $6.3 billion, despite a strict debt limit of $350,000. When local government debt is included, the total amount of debt for all levels of Arizona government swells to $37 billion. That’s about $6,000 for every man woman and child in Arizona. In just four years, from 2004 to 2008, state and local debt in Arizona increased by more than $10 billion. Debt allows government spending to grow virtually unchecked because it eliminates pressure on elected officials to set spending priorities. And, it costs taxpayers more to pay for government services with debt than with cash on hand. In 2008, for example, Arizona taxpayers spent $696 million on state debt interest payments alone. That’s more than the state spent on the Department of Health Services which administers behavioral health, disease prevention and control, and community public health programs and regulates the state’s childcare and assisted living centers, nursing homes, and hospitals, among other things. The state’s mounting debt, combined with its current fiscal problems, is leading to calls for reforms that will help keep Arizona solvent.

  • Arizona is in real bad shape with severe budget deficits and huge debt, thanks to Janet Napolitano

Economic News

U.S. consumers and businesses filing for bankruptcy totalled more than 1.4 million in 2009, an Associated Press tally showed Monday, an increase of 32% from 2008. Arizona saw the fastest increase, a jump of 77% from the year before, followed by Wyoming (60%), Nevada (59%) and California (58%).

Automakers ended a dreadful 2009 — the worst U.S. sales year since 1982 — on a positive note: Sales rose 15.1% in December compared with a year ago, reports released Tuesday show. Even with the improvement late in the year, 2009 industry sales fell 21.2%, to 10.4 million, compared with 2008. Despite winding down Pontiac, Saturn and Saab and cutting a deal to sell Hummer, GM remained the No. 1 U.S. seller. It will have just four brands going forward: Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac. Ford came close to passing Toyota for second place. Detroit’s laggard continues to be Chrysler. Sales fell 35.9%, and it was passed by Honda for fourth place in the U.S.

The cost of filling up the car is rising in the wake of soaring crude and by this weekend, pump prices may race past the highs for all of 2009. By the weekend a gallon of gas will hit $2.70, higher that the peak for 2009, and will be pushing $3 by spring, experts predict. Falling supplies in recent weeks have contributed to prices driven higher by the falling dollar.

Yemen

The U.S. Embassy in the capital reopened Tuesday after having been closed for two days amid security threats. Yemeni security forces arrested three suspected al-Qaeda militants from a cell that the U.S. has said was linked to a plot against the American or other embassies, the Interior Ministry said Wednesday.

Although American officials have been saying for years that Yemen‘s instability poses a terrorism threat, annual U.S. military and development aid to that country in the past decade has been less than $50 million, government records show, a fraction of the sums sent to its regional neighbors. Yemen, located on the Arabian Peninsula, is the ancestral homeland of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the site of the 2000 USS Cole bombing that killed 17 American sailors. Yemen has long grappled with the presence of extremists on its soil. Al-Qaeda’s offshoot in Yemen was behind the failed attempt to bomb a U.S. airliner heading to Detroit on Christmas.

Although Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East, the United States was sending just a few million a year in development assistance before the 9/11 attacks, according to State Department budget records. In 2003, when the U.S. Agency for International Development re-opened its mission in the country after a seven-year absence, civilian aid to the country more than doubled, but remained a paltry $15 million, records show. Even after more increases, aid to Yemen pales compared with the $2.8 billion the Obama administration will send to Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are at war, or even the $238 million slated for Lebanon,

Russia

A suicide bomber blew up an explosives-packed car at a police station in Russia‘s troubled North Caucasus on Wednesday, killing at least six officers and wounding 16 in Dragestan, police said. A similar bombing in Ingushetia in August killed 24 people and injured more than 200. Dagestan and Ingushetia border Chechnya, where Russian troops have fought two full-scale wars against separatist rebels in the past 15 years. All three predominantly Muslim republics in the North Caucasus have seen a sharp rise in violence in the past year, with many of the nearly daily attacks targeting police and other officials.

  • So why is it that almost all the terrorism in the world is Muslim sponsored and yet we are told it is a peaceful religion?

Afghanistan

Fourteen suspected terrorists died Tuesday night when the bus they rigged with explosives blew up prematurely, police said. The explosion occurred as the suspects were riding the bus in the province of Kunduz, said police chief Abdul Raziq Yaqobi. Yaqobi said the Islamic suspects wanted to attack Afghan police or foreign soldiers.

Pakistan

A suicide bomber struck an army facility in the Pakistan-controlled portion of Kashmir on Wednesday, killing at least three soldiers and wounding 11 others, police said. More than 500 people have been killed in Pakistan in attacks by Muslim militants, many of them targeting the government, since mid-October, when the army launched a major offensive against the Pakistani Taliban‘s stronghold of South Waziristan in the northwest. However, such attacks are rare in Kashmir. The territory is divided between Pakistan and India, and both claim it in its entirety. The two neighbors have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir after gaining independence from Britain in 1947.

Iraq

The Christian Post reports that a car bomb set near a church in a mostly Christian Iraqi town injured a dozen people on Tuesday. Five people were hospitalized after the blast went off near St. George Church in the northern town of Bartilla. The bombing is the second act of violence against Bartilla’s Christians in two weeks; a minority mob attacked another church on Christmas morning. The town has checkpoints set up as a precaution against such violence, but the Christmas day mob overcame those guards. They were stopped at St. Mary Church by church guards. According to the Post, more than 200 Christians have been killed in Iraq since 2003, and more than 65 churches have been targeted since 2004.

Iran

A new U.S. intelligence assessment delivered to the Obama administration maintains that Iran is at least 18 months away from testing a nuclear device, and is highly vulnerable to economic sanctions meant to rein in its renegade nuclear, as Tehran struggles with internal political dissent, high unemployment, and aging oil infrastructure.

The New York Times reports that last September, when Iran’s uranium enrichment plant buried inside a mountain near the holy city of Qum was revealed, the episode cast light on a wider pattern: Over the past decade, Iran has quietly hidden an increasingly large part of its atomic complex in networks of tunnels and bunkers across the country. In doing so, American government and private experts say, Iran has achieved a double purpose. Not only has it shielded its infrastructure from military attack in warrens of dense rock, but it has further obscured the scale and nature of its notoriously opaque nuclear effort. The discovery of the Qum plant only heightens fears about other undeclared sites.

  • Given the secrecy and hidden tunnels, Iran may be further along than our intelligence community knows

Somalia

The U.N. food agency is stopping aid distribution to about 1 million people in southern Somalia because of attacks against staff and demands by armed groups that aid groups remove women from their teams, the agency said Tuesday. The World Food Program is moving staff and supplies to northern and central Somalia from six areas in the south that are largely controlled by the al-Shabab Islamist group. “Up to a million people that have been dependent on food assistance in southern Somalia face a situation that is particularly dire,” Emilia Casella, a WFP spokeswoman.told reporters in Geneva.

India

Compass Direct News reports that 2009 brought hardly any respite for minority faiths in India. Christians faced an average of more than three violent attacks a week, continuing two years of unprecedented attacks. There were at least 152 attacks on Christians in 2009, according to the “Partial List of Major Incidents of Anti-Christian Violence in India” released by the Evangelical Fellowship of India. The of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh all have anti-conversion laws, which Hindu hardliners routinely use to arrest Christians on spurious accusations of “forcible conversion.” Southern India, which had long been considered a haven for Christians, recorded the highest incidence of anti-Christian violence. Of the total 152 incidents, 86 were reported from southern states, mainly Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The morale of Christians in Orissa remained low as few assailants in the 2008 rampage were brought to justice.

Weather

Unusually heavy snowfall stranded hundreds of motorists, disrupted trains and shut down schools and airports across Britain on Wednesday as the country suffered through its longest cold snap in nearly 30 years. The British military was called in overnight to help rescue motorists when up to 1,000 vehicles were caught in a massive snow-related traffic jam in Hampshire, in southern England. Many people were evacuated to nearby rescue centers but some people slept in their vehicles overnight.

Cold records are breaking from Arkansas to Florida, and residents and tourists alike are bracing for a rare spell of prolonged freezing temperatures. Among the record lows set Tuesday were 12 degrees in North Little Rock, Ark., and 21 degrees in Gulfport, Miss. Orlando set a record when its high temperature was only 47 degrees. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist declared an emergency late Tuesday because of possible damage to citrus and other crops.

Homeless shelters are swamped as an extended cold snap in the eastern half of the country raises alarms about people living on the streets or in unheated buildings. The problem is acute in New Orleans, where thousands displaced since Hurricane Katrina live in abandoned houses. Overnight temperatures have fallen into the 20s. In Nashville, where the temperature fell to 12 degrees Monday night, four people died outside.

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