Obama’s Budget Proposal Draws Fire from Legislators

President Obama’s proposed $3.8 trillion budget ran into immediate trouble in Congress on Monday among lawmakers who said it tries to do too much while cutting the deficit too little. The quick response came as Obama sought to juggle his twin goals of creating jobs, which entails tax cuts and new spending, and cutting the deficit, which involves the opposite. Liberal budget experts agreed that the plan didn’t go far enough to reduce the deficit, despite $1.6 trillion in savings over 10 years. The $1.56 trillion deficit would be cut in half by 2014 but grow back to $1 trillion by 2020. The cumulative deficit over 10 years: $8.5 trillion.

Republicans who spent the past year criticizing Obama’s $862 billion economic stimulus package, said the president was being spendthrift by raising the overall budget 3%. They lambasted his plan to let President George W. Bush‘s tax cuts expire next year for families making more than $250,000. President Barack Obama’s proposed budget relies on a commission without teeth to help his administration wrestle the deficit out of the danger zone. It forecasts stronger economic growth than most economists expect and calls on Congress to cut programs that lawmakers cherish.

Grim Jobless Numbers

Forget the deficit numbers for awhile — the Obama administration’s unemployment projections are pretty grim as well. According to budget documents released Monday, the administration projects a jobless rate of approximately 9.8 % by the end of this year, only slightly less than the current 10 % rate. The projected rate is 8.9 % for the last three months of 2011 — and 7.9 % for the last quarter of 2012. Those numbers bode ill for for Democratic candidates — including President Obama, who presumably will be seeking re-election in 2012 with that projected 7.9 % unemployment rate. That rate was 7.4 % in November of 1992, when George H.W. Bush lost re-election to Bill Clinton. It was 7.5 % when President Jimmy Carter lost in 1980 to Ronald Reagan.

  • Since such estimates are usually overoptimistic, joblessness is going to be a big problem for a long time

Federal Payroll to Hit Record 2.15 Million

The era of big government has returned with a vengeance, in the form of the largest federal work force in modern history. The Obama administration says the government will grow to 2.15 million employees this year, topping 2 million for the first time since President Clinton declared that “the era of big government is over” and joined forces with a Republican-led Congress in the 1990s to pare back the federal work force. Most of the increases are on the civilian side, which will grow by 153,000 workers, to 1.43 million people, in fiscal 2010. From 1981 through 2008, the civilian work force remained at about 1.1 million to 1.2 million, with a low of 1.07 million in 1986 and a high of more than 1.2 million in 1993 and in 2008. In 2009, the number jumped to 1.28 million.

  • The only true recession-proof industry is the federal government

Obama Proposes $1 Trillion in New Taxes

While President Barack Obama is proposing to cut some taxes for companies that hire workers, his budget would raise a host of other taxes on businesses and wealthy individuals. Obama’s budget would extend his signature Making Work Pay tax credit — $400 for individuals, $800 for a couple filing jointly — through 2011. The administration released the budget Monday. But it would also impose nearly $1 trillion in higher taxes on couples making more than $250,000 and individuals making more than $200,000 by not renewing Bush-era tax cuts for them. Obama would extend tax cuts enacted under former President George W. Bush for families and individuals making less. Obama revived numerous proposals for business tax increases that didn’t fare well in Congress last year, including a scaled-down plan to increase taxes on U.S. companies with major overseas operations, and plans to increase taxes on oil and gas companies.

First Tea Party Convention Stirs Controversy

The first National Tea Party Convention is slated for the end of this week, but several big names and events have cancelled after questions rose about the high fees to attend and the treasure chest where the money will end up. Over the past few weeks, several sponsors, speakers and volunteers have backed out of the convention, scheduled Feb. 4-6 at Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., after learning that the convention organizer, Tea Party Nation, is a for-profit company. Some activists and outsiders alike are questioning the motives of Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips. The event’s main sponsor, American Liberty Alliance, dropped its sponsorship after learning that those who purchased tickets paid for them through PayPal accounts linked to an e-mail address belonging to Phillips’ wife.

  • It doesn’t take long for a grassroots movement to be taken over by political opportunists

New Program Aided Teen Abstinence

An experimental abstinence-only program without a moralistic tone can delay young teens from having sex, a new study found. Billed as the first rigorous research to show long-term success with an abstinence-only approach, the study released Monday differed from traditional programs that have lost U.S. federal and state support in recent years. The classes didn’t preach saving sex until marriage or disparage condom use. Instead, they involved assignments to help students around the age of 12 see the drawbacks to sexual activity at their age. It included having them list the pros and cons themselves, and it found their “cons” far outnumbered the “pros.”

Air Force Academy Creates Worship Area for Pagans, Druids, Witches

The Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., is establishing a worship area for followers of Earth-centered religions — Wiccans, Druids, witches, Pagans — on a hill overlooking the campus. The chief of the academy has made religious tolerance a priority after a 2004 survey of cadets found instances of harassment, the Air Force Times reports. On the school’s Web site, public affairs Staff Sgt. Don Branum says the new area, featuring a circle of stone formed by inner and outer rings,  will join other worship areas on campus for Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists.

Top Military Officer Backs Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Repealing the policy against openly gay men and lesbians in the military “would be the right thing to do,” the nation’s top uniformed officer said Tuesday. However, eliminating the current “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy will cause “some disruption in the force,” Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the panel that he “fully supports” President Obama’s decision to work with Congress to end the policy. Several committee Republicans, led by the ranking member, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, said they were disappointed with Obama’s decision and supported retaining the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

  • Just as it doesn’t make sense to house men and women together in the military, so too does it not make sense to house gays with members of the same sex. It’s only asking for trouble.

990 Airport Body Scanners by 2011

Body scanners that look under airline passengers’ clothing for hidden weapons could be in nearly half the nation’s airport checkpoints by late 2011, according to an Obama administration plan announced Monday. The $215 million proposal to acquire 500 scanners next year, combined with the 450 to be bought this year, marks the largest addition of airport-security equipment since immediately after the 9/11 attacks. There are only 40 body scanners in a total of 19 airports now.

Obama to Raise the Bar of No Child Left Behind Law

The Obama administration will seek Congress’ help in overhauling a key part of the 8-year-old No Child Left Behind education law. The proposal would rework the way the federal government judges public schools by allowing states to set their own standards. In its place, President Obama wants lawmakers to consider rewarding states that show progress toward internationally benchmarked, nationally developed standards. Obama and Arne Duncan, his Education secretary, have long said No Child Left Behind doesn’t hold states to high enough standards.

  • Less states rights, more federalization and internationalism. Founding fathers would be dismayed.

Obama kills NASA’s Moon Mission Plans

President Obama is redirecting America’s space program, killing NASA‘s $100 billion plans to return astronauts to the moon and using much of that money for new rocket technology research. The moon program, which has cost $9.1 billion so far, “was over budget, behind schedule and lacking in innovation due to a failure to invest in critical new technologies” according to the budget plan issued Monday. Obama’s budget would increase fiscal year 2011 funds for NASA by 1.5% and support the development of rocket systems that eventually might take U.S. astronauts back into deep space. In preparation for those trips, Obama envisions using robotic ships to find locations for future landings and test new technology.

1 in 8 Get Help at Food Banks

One in eight Americans — 37 million — received emergency food help last year, up 46% from 2005, the nation’s largest hunger-relief group reports today. One in five children, 14 million, received food from soup kitchens, food pantries and other agencies, up from 9 million in 2005, the year of the group’s last major survey. This comes as a record number of Americans are receiving food stamps — 33.7 million last year — and as President Obama, who has set a goal of ending childhood hunger by 2015, proposed in his budget Monday to add $1 billion annually to school-based food programs. The Agriculture Department reported in November that 14.6% of households didn’t have enough food at some time in 2008.

State Health Plans in Jeopardy

The troubled economy is forcing Washington and other states to pare back health insurance programs for low-income people, even as growing joblessness boosts demand for help. Five of six states that use state funds to assist adults not covered by Medicaid are considering cuts, barring new enrollment or raising fees. The more than 250,000 people in the state programs are adults who don’t qualify for the joint federal-state Medicaid program, either because they don’t have children or earn more than the tight limits states impose on Medicaid eligibility. They represent a tiny fraction of people who get government health insurance, yet the state programs are often their sole option for coverage.

States Cutting Environmental Funds

States are slashing funds for environmental programs, threatening their ability to meet federal standards for clean air and water. All but two states, Montana and North Dakota, have made significant cuts to initiatives ranging from toxic waste cleanup to sewage treatment, says Steve Brown, executive director for Environmental Council of the States, which unites state agencies. he budget crunch is so severe that some states are struggling to implement and enforce new rules set by the Environmental Protection Agency. The cuts could pose a significant risk to public health, says Elgie Holstein of the Environmental Defense Fund, a non-profit group.

$30B in TARP Funds to Go to Small-Business

President Obama announced Tuesday the latest initiative in his series of plans to spur growth, bolster hiring and free up credit for small businesses: a new $30 billion “small-business lending fund” created from TARP money. The fund would be available to community banks with assets of $10 billion or less for small-business lending. “These are the small, local banks that work most closely with our small businesses — that provide them their first loan, and watch them grow through good times and bad,” Obama said.

Economic News

Hopes that America’s factories will help drive the economic recovery gained support Monday from news that manufacturing activity grew in January to its strongest point since 2004. However, construction spending sank in December to its lowest level in more than six years. And gains in personal income and spending were too modest in December to suggest that consumers can fuel a strong rebound.

The two-week drop in oil prices is paying off for drivers in some parts of the country more than others. Retail gasoline prices have now fallen for 19 straight days to a national average of $2.67 per gallon. State averages are 10 to 15 cents lower a gallon in many parts of the Midwest and South. Different tax rates from state to state are part of the reason for a wide range of prices. Wholesale prices also can vary considerably throughout the country, with wholesale prices at $1.86 per gallon in Chicago and $2.01 per gallon in Los Angeles.

Fewer alumni contributed to their undergraduate alma maters last year, and those who gave, gave less, a survey says. Just 10% of alumni gave to their schools last year, down from 11% the previous year and the lowest level since 1969. Overall charitable contributions to U.S. colleges and universities, including gifts from non-alumni individuals, foundations, corporations and other organizations, declined 11.9% to $27.85 billion.

Americans’ love affair with top-shelf booze cooled last year as the recession took a toll on high-priced drinks. A report by an industry group shows people drank more but turned to cheaper brands. They also drank more at home and less in pricier bars and restaurants.

Global Military Spending Unaffected by Recession

The overall amount of money invested in soldiers, weapons and war has been largely unaffected by the global economic downturn, a think tank said in a report published Wednesday. The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies said the total amount of money spent on world defense budgets rose from $1.3 trillion to $1.55 trillion between 2006 and 2008, and likely continued to climb further in 2009. Key countries accounting for the biggest share of global military spending —China, U.S., France and Japan— have, in general, increased spending or kept their budgets unchanged, with Russia the only leading country making a small reduction in spending. In the Middle East, most countries also increased their defense budgets in 2009, if only modestly.

Accused Christmas Day Bomber Cooperating

The Nigerian man accused of trying to use a bomb hidden in his underwear to bring down a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas has been cooperating with investigators since last week and has provided fresh intelligence in multiple terrorism investigations, officials said Tuesday. In the days following the failed bombing, a pair of FBI agents flew to Nigeria and persuaded Abdulmutallab’s family to help them. When the agents returned to the U.S., Abdulmutallab’s family came, too, according to a senior administration official briefed on the case. Abdulmutallab has provided information about his contacts in Yemen, where an al-Qaeda branch has claimed responsibility for the failed attack.


Haitian and U.S. officials are considering a trial in the United States for 10 Americans arrested while trying to bus children out of Haiti without proper documents. The 10 Americans, who belong to a Baptist church group in Idaho, said they were trying to rescue orphans and children whose parents could not care for them. Spokeswoman Laura Silsby said relatives of the children and the head of an orphanage asked the group to take the children to a well-supplied former beach hotel in the Dominican. The Haitian government insisted Monday that the Americans — however well-intentioned — must be prosecuted to send a message against child trafficking.

During the 1990s, the U.S. government spent $100 million trying to improve Haiti’s police and justice systems, and had little to show for it. After a decade of such aid, the nation’s law enforcement and courts remained corrupt and ineffectual, a 2000 Government Accountability Office report said. From 2005 to 2007, the USA tried again, paying a contractor nearly $4 million to improve Haiti’s judicial system. There was “no measurable improvement,” a government audit found. Those programs were a small part of the river of foreign aid that has flowed into Haiti in recent decades, even as it has descended further into the depths of poverty and dysfunction. After receiving $8.3 billion in foreign aid since 1969, Haiti is 25% poorer than it was in 1945. Even before the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed at least 100,000 people, three-quarters of Haiti’s 9 million people lived on less than $2 a day, the United Nations says.

  • Until the deeply embedded witchcraft culture changes, there is no hope for Haiti


Faced with the threat of much tighter international sanctions, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced on Tuesday that the Iranian regime was ready to send its uranium abroad for further enrichment under a deal proposed last fall by the UN. Faced with the threat of much tighter international sanctions, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced on Tuesday that the Iranian regime was ready to send its uranium abroad for further enrichment under a deal proposed last fall by the UN.

Iran said Tuesday that the strengthening of U.S. missile defense systems in Gulf Arab countries is aimed at sowing regional divisions and that Tehran‘s neighbors should not be drawn into believing the country poses a threat. U.S. military officials said over the weekend that the systems — involving upgraded Patriot missiles on land and more U.S. Navy ships capable of destroying missiles in flight — is intended to counter a potential Iranian missile strike.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested in a television interview Tuesday that Iran would release three jailed U.S. hikers in exchange for Iranians currently serving in American prisons. Ahmadinejad did not mention any specific cases but in December Iran released a list of 11 Iranians it says are being held in the U.S. — including a nuclear scientist who disappeared in Saudi Arabia and a former Defense Ministry official who vanished in Turkey. The list also includes an Iranian arrested in Canada on charges of trying to obtain nuclear technology.


A roadside bomb killed 3 U.S. soldiers and flattened a girls’ school in northwest Pakistan on Wednesday in an attack that drew attention to a little-publicized American military training mission in the al-Qaeda and Taliban heartland. They were the first known U.S. military fatalities in Pakistan’s lawless tribal regions near the Afghan border, and a major victory for militants who have been hit hard by a surge of U.S. missile strikes and a major Pakistani army offensive. The blast also killed three schoolgirls and a Pakistani soldier who was traveling with the Americans. Two more U.S. soldiers were wounded, along with more than 70 other people, mostly students.

Pakistani troops killed eight Islamist militants Tuesday in an Afghan border region where insurgents are staging a comeback after a military operation there was declared a success. The clashes in the Bajur region illustrate the tenacity of Islamist militants in northwest Pakistan. The fighting came amid continuing reports that the head of the Pakistani Taliban had died as a result of injuries sustained in a U.S. missile strike elsewhere in the northwest in mid-January. On Monday, a Taliban commander said chief Hakimullah Mehsud was alive and promised to provide proof soon.


NATO forces say that two U.S. service members were killed in a bomb strike in southern Afghanistan. Volatile southern Afghanistan has seen increasing violence over the past 12 months with an increase in NATO forces, particularly deaths and injuries from planted bombs targeting vehicles of international forces or soldiers on foot patrols. Thirty American troops died in January, compared with 14 in the same month of 2009.


A bomb planted on a parked motorcycle exploded Wednesday on the outskirts of the holy city of Karbala, killing at least 20 Shiite pilgrims and wounding more than 100 others amid tight security for the huge religious procession. The blast was the latest in a string of attacks this week that have targeted pilgrims making their way to an important Shiite religious observance in Karbala, raising fears of a spike in attacks by suspected Sunni insurgents when the pilgrimage culminates Friday.


Nearly 71,000 homes and businesses remained without electricity following a winter storm that brought ice, sleet and snow to Oklahoma last week. Utility officials have said it could be next week before service is restored. Parts of a sprawling South Dakota Sioux reservation were without water and electricity on Monday after an ice storm and blizzard toppled thousands of power lines, caused water pipes to freeze and burst, and forced more than a dozen residents on kidney dialysis to seek treatment at another reservation. The fierce ice storm hit the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation nearly two weeks ago, coating roads and electrical lines and forcing shops and schools to close. Before residents could recover from the ice, a blizzard tore through the Dakotas, bringing a few inches of snow and wind gusts between 25 and 50 mph. At the height of the outages, about 14,000 people in the region were without water — most of them on the impoverished reservation that covers an area larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

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