Tea Parties Shake up Politics Across U.S.

A once-dismissed loose confederation of Tea Party activists opposed to big government, bailouts and higher taxes is causing heartburn for establishment candidates across the United States. They swept into Massachusetts with lightning speed when polls began to show that the eventual winner of last week’s special election, Republican Scott Brown, had a shot at upsetting Democrat Martha Coakley for the Senate seat that the late liberal lion, Edward M. Kennedy, had held almost 47 years. Relying on Internet tools like Facebook and Twitter for communications, tea partiers have organized meetings, marches and protests almost overnight, often catching establishment politicians off guard.

They have scheduled a rally at the Capitol just hours before President Barack Obama‘s State of the Union speech Wednesday night to protest his health care plan. Tea partiers boast that they are a leaderless, grass-roots political army not beholden to either party, although some acknowledge that Republican candidates who share their conservative fiscal views are most likely to benefit from the movement’s efforts. The movement takes its name from an event in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1773. Around 200 colonists, incensed that the English crown was demanding payment of duties on cargoes of tea in three British ships, stormed the ships in Boston Harbor and threw the boxes of tea overboard.

Women’s Groups Urge CBS to Jettison Anti-Abortion Super Bowl Ad

A coalition of women’s groups called on the CBS network on Monday to scrap its plan to broadcast an ad during the Super Bowl featuring college football star Tim Tebow and his mother, which critics say is likely to convey an anti-abortion message. The ad — paid for by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family — is expected to recount the story of Pam Tebow’s pregnancy in 1987 with a theme of “Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life.” After getting sick during a mission trip to the Philippines, she ignored a recommendation by doctors to abort her fifth child and gave birth to Tim, who went on to win the 2007 Heisman Trophy while helping his Florida team to two college football championships.

  • The culture of death would prefer showing ads for beer and sex than promoting life

Teen Birth & Abortion Rates Up

The teen pregnancy rate in the USA rose 3% in 2006, the first increase in more than a decade, according to data out today. The data also show higher rates of births and abortions among girls 15-19. The numbers, calculated by the Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit group that studies reproductive and sexual health, show a clear reversal from the downward trend that began in the 1990s. About 7% of teen girls got pregnant in 2006, a rate of 71.5 pregnancies per 1,000 teens. That’s up slightly from 69.5 in 2005, Guttmacher says. In 1990, when rates peaked, about 12% got pregnant. The abortion rate was up 1%. Some experts suggest the increase is related to a focus on abstinence-only sex education programs under the Bush administration.

  • The primary problem is a culture saturated with sex through every media channel. If abstinence education was responsible for the slight rise in 2006, then it must also be responsible for the decline from 12% to 7% from 1990 to 2005.

Welfare Rolls Up

Welfare rolls rose in 2009 for the first time in 15 years, but the 5% increase was dwarfed by spikes in the number of people receiving food stamps and unemployment insurance. The cash-assistance program that once helped more than 14 million people served an average of 4 million in the 2009 fiscal year, up from 3.8 million in fiscal 2008. By comparison, there were more than 37 million people receiving food stamps in September, an increase of 18% from the year before. The number receiving unemployment benefits more than doubled, to about 9.1 million. The disparity has caused some of those involved in passing the 1996 welfare overhaul to question whether it’s failing to help victims of the recession. The purpose of the law, passed by a Republican-led Congress and signed by President Clinton, was to move millions of people from welfare to work.

US Waves White Flag in Disastrous ‘War on Drugs’

After 40 years of defeat and failure, America’s “war on drugs” is being buried in the same fashion as it was born – amid bloodshed, confusion, corruption and scandal. US agents are being pulled from South America; Washington is putting its narcotics policy under review, and a newly confident region is no longer prepared to swallow its fatal Prohibition error. Indeed, after the expenditure of billions of dollars and the violent deaths of tens of thousands of people, a suitable epitaph for America’s longest “war” may well be the plan, in Bolivia, for every family to be given the right to grow coca in its own backyard. The “war”, declared unilaterally throughout the world by Richard Nixon in 1969, is expiring as its strategists start discarding plans that have proved futile over four decades. Prospects in the new decade are thus opening up for vast amounts of government expenditure being reassigned to the treatment of addicts instead of their capture and imprisonment.

College Gender Gap Remains

The gender gap on campus — about 57% female, 43% male — is troubling, but it’s not getting any worse, a report says today. Men have consistently represented about 43% of enrollments and earned 43% of bachelor’s degrees since 2000, says the report by the American Council on Education. The report suggests policymakers and educators can have the greatest effect by focusing efforts on Hispanics. Just 9% of Hispanic young men have earned a bachelor’s degree, the lowest attainment level of any group studied. Among Hispanic young women, 14% have earned a bachelor’s.

Gallup: Obama Most Polarizing President Ever

President Barack Obama is the most polarizing president in American history, according to a poll released by the Gallup organization Monday. The average difference in Obama’s approval ratings between Democrats and Republicans turned out to be 65 percent — the highest first-year gap of any president so measured. Obama’s 88 percent approval rating from Democrats is the second highest level of party support for a first-year president, trailing only the 92 percent Republican support for George W. Bush in 2001.

Obama Praise Planted in U.S. newspapers

Obama supporters are flooding newspapers with pro-Obama letters purportedly from average citizens – with duplicate messages appearing in more than 70 publications across the nation. One writer identified as “Ellie Light” has published identical form letters in newspapers around the country. Sabrina Eaton of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported Light claims to have different hometowns within the respective newspaper readership areas. Each letter is nearly identical in grammar, style and subject. In numerous letters, Ellie Light lists various hometowns in at least 31 states and the District of Columbia. Aside from Light’s messages, duplicate pro-Obama letters have been submitted to dozens of publications by writers identified as “Jan Chen,” “Gloria Elle,” “Cherry Jimenez,” “Janet Leigh,” “Earnest Gardner,” “Jen Park,” “Lars Deerman,” “John F. Stott,” “Gordon Adams,” “Nancy Speed,” “Sheila Price,” “Clarence Ndangam,” “Vernetta Mason,” “Greg Mitchell,” “Ermelinda Giurato,” “J. Scott Piper,” “Robert Vander Molen” and “Terri Reese.”

  • It’s not surprising that an administration stocked with people who supported Acorn’s registration of dead voters would also stoop to submitting letters from fake people.

Obama Administration Earns an ‘F’ on Stopping WMD Attacks

The national WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) commission established by Congress has given the Obama administration an “F” for failing to protect America from nuclear, chemical, and biological attacks. “Nearly a decade after 9/11, one year after our original report, and one month after the Christmas Day bombing attempt, the United States is failing to address several urgent threats, especially bioterrorism,” stated former Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., chairman of the bipartisan Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. The report charges the administration “is simply not paying consistent and urgent attention to the means of responding quickly and effectively so that [WMD attacks] no longer constitute a threat of mass destruction.” Surprisingly, the Commission concluded there still exists “no national plan to coordinate federal, state, and local efforts following a bioterror attack, and the United States lacks the technical and operational capabilities required for an adequate response.”

Obama Proposes Spending Limits

Facing voter anger over mounting budget deficits, President Barack Obama will ask Congress to freeze spending for some domestic programs for three years beginning in 2011, administration officials said Monday. The spending freeze would apply to a relatively small portion of the federal budget, affecting a $477 billion pot of money available for domestic agencies whose budgets are approved by Congress each year. These programs got an almost 10 percent increase this year.

  • Out of a $3.5 trillion budget, this is more show than substance

Obama Gets Bad News from Congressional Budget Office

Jobs and the deficits are going to be big themes of President Obama’s big speech Wednesday — and he got some bad numbers on both topics Tuesday from the Congressional Budget Office. The new report by the Congressional Budget Office says the nation’s $1.4 trillion deficit is likely to stay in that range for the next two years. The 2010 deficit should be about $1.35 trillion, and if Obama keeps President Bush’s tax cuts in place and extends other expiring tax breaks, the 2011 deficit would be about the same, the report says. Over the next decade, the nation would rack up another $12 trillion in deficits, thereby doubling the size of the $12 trillion national debt. The debt would soon be two-thirds the size of the overall economy. By 2020, interest payments on that debt would be more than $700 billion, about four times the size of the current amount.

Senate Nixes Obama’s Deficit-Panel Idea

The Senate on Tuesday rejected a plan to create a bipartisan commission to tackle the nation’s budget problems this year, leaving it up to President Barack Obama to create such a panel by executive order. The commission would have had broad powers to recommend changes to the tax code and cut spending on entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. Its recommendations, due after the November elections, would have been guaranteed an up-or-down vote in both chambers of Congress before the year is out. But the measure won just 53 votes in the Senate, not enough to overcome a threatened filibuster. In rejecting the idea, Republicans opposed to tax increases joined Democrats fearful of being forced to cut social programs.

  • As usual, politicians pass the buck when it comes to difficult decisions

Oregon Voters OK Tax Hikes on Wealthy, Businesses

Oregon voters on Tuesday approved tax hikes on businesses and the wealthy, allowing legislators to avert budget cuts they said would have affected schools and services for the poor and elderly. Measure 66 raises tax rates on individuals who earn more than $125,000 and couples with incomes greater than $250,000. Measure 67 increases business taxes. Fifty-four percent of voters had approved both measures. It was a victory for public employee unions and the Democratic majorities in the Legislature that imposed the taxes last year, arguing that deep cuts in school aid and social services were the alternative for a state facing declining revenues due to the recession.

  • That’s the tough choice for states this year: raise taxes or cut sacred programs

Economic News

Consumer confidence rose past expectations in January, the third straight monthly increase as Americans begin to feel slightly better about business conditions and the job picture, according to a survey released Tuesday. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index increased to 55.9 — the highest in more than a year but still relatively gloomy. That compares with 53.6 in December. It takes a reading of 90 to indicate an economy on solid footing and 100 or more to indicate growth.

Home sales last month saw their biggest drop in more than 40 years as buyers left the market because they weren’t sure Congress would extend a tax credit for first-time home buyers. After a surge in sales from September through November, existing home sales tumbled 16.7% in December from November. For all of 2009, there were 5.1 million existing home sales, which was 4.9% higher than the 4.9 million sales in 2008 — the first annual sales gain since 2005.

A closely watched index shows that home prices rose nationally for the sixth straight month in November, with 14 of 20 metro areas tracked showing improvements. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index released Tuesday inched up 0.2% to a seasonally adjusted reading of 145.49. The index was off 5.3% from November of last year.

Federal stimulus funds may have rescued the U.S. wind-power industry from what could have been a disastrous 2009, but it still lost highly sought-after manufacturing jobs, according to a trade association report out Tuesday. Nationwide, the wind-power industry employs about 85,000 people — the same number as a year ago after it gained 13,000 manufacturing jobs in 2008.

The British economy grew 0.1% in the final quarter of 2009, meaning the country officially exited recession. Britain is the last of the major economies to emerge from the downturn created by the global credit crisis, with the French and the German economies returning to growth last summer. Economists expect growth to remain fragile for several months.

Haiti

As many as 1 million people — one person in nine across the country — need to find new shelter, the United Nations estimates, and there are too few tents, let alone safe buildings, to put them in. Thousands of people were camped across from the collapsed National Palace, amid piles of trash and the stench of human waste. Uruguayan U.N. peacekeepers fired pepper spray to try to disperse thousands of people jostling for food aid. The United Nations says 235,000 people have left the city in recent days aboard government-provided buses. The International Organization for Migration, an intergovernmental agency, says it could take weeks to locate suitable sites for enough tent cities for those made homeless by the Jan. 12 quake. Tens of thousands of people have returned to the region around the coastal city of Gonaives in northern Haiti, a city abandoned by many after two devastating floods in six years.

More than six out of 10 Americans believe U.S. troops and relief workers should remain in Haiti until life is more or less back to normal, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll released Monday found. The findings came as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, traveling to Montreal to discuss longer-term rebuilding efforts, said the $100 million pledged so far by the U.S. was “just for the emergency … there will be more to come.” Getting life back to normal for Haitians could take years and cost billions of dollars.

Iran

New intelligence acquired by Germany’s BND and reportedly under review in Germany, Israel, the US and the UN in Vienna conclusively shows that Iran’s nuclear program has an advanced military offshoot which answers to the country’s defense establishment, Der Spiegel reported Monday. Aside from exposing the existence of a clandestine weapons development program, the document apparently shows that Tehran is in possession of advanced blueprints for producing a nuclear bomb. Such documents, as well as information passed on to Western intelligence agencies by Iranian defectors and sources within Iran, are causing growing alarm among US and European leaders, and may impact the White House approach to Iran. The intelligence document suggests that Iran’s energy council – a civilian scientific body – has been co-opted by the defense ministry to focus on uranium enrichment for fissile warhead material, while the military has been responsible for research on warheads compatible with Iran’s Shihab-III ballistic missiles. As such, the Islamic republic may be able to produce a crude nuclear bomb – too large to be attached to any missile – by the end of this year, with estimates citing 2012 as a possible date for a functional warhead.

Iraq

A suicide car bomber has killed at least 18 and injured dozens more in a strike Tuesday against Interior Ministry offices in central Baghdad. Officials say the majority of those killed were likely police officers worked in the crime lab at Tahariyat Square in the central neighborhood of Karradah. This week’s bombings — all against prominent and heavily fortified targets — dealt yet another blow to an Iraqi government struggling to answer for security lapses that have allowed bombers to carry out a number of massive attacks in the heart of the capital since August.

Afghanistan

Germany plans to increase its troop contingent in Afghanistan by up to 850 and focus more strongly on training local security forces, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday. She gave the figures after meeting with ministers to thrash out Germany’s position for this week’s London conference on the future of Afghanistan. Germany currently has nearly 4,300 soldiers in northern Afghanistan. The number of soldiers involved in training Afghan forces will be increased from 1,400 from 280 at present, she said.

Taiwan

The Obama administration has decided to approve an arms package for Taiwan, senior U.S. congressional aides say. The decision threatens to worsen a growing rift between the United States and China. The package is likely to include UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles and material related to Taiwan’s defense communications network. China considers Taiwan a renegade province and will object vehemently to the sale. The package appears to dodge a difficult issue: The aides say the F-16 fighter jets that Taiwan covets are not likely to be included.

Weather

A winter storm that moved across several Midwestern states Monday brought fierce winds and light snow, leaving travelers stranded and closing some schools and businesses. Strong winds were blowing around what was falling — or had already fallen in the last several days — in the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota, creating whiteout conditions in some places. Ice buildup on power lines also was a problem in some areas.

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