Obama Adjusts Course Toward Center

A carefully calibrated State of the Union Address Tuesday night marked the culmination of a three-month transformation that has rebooted Barack Obama’s presidency and launched his re-election campaign. Call it Obama 2.0. After two years of fierce partisan combat over a health care bill — now signed into law, albeit still under fire — the president proposed more centrist policies in a less combative tone than he did in his previous addresses to Joint Sessions of Congress. He made a point of reaching out to Republicans and distanced himself a bit from fellow Democrats on issues such as capping carbon emissions (not a word about it) or tightening gun controls in the wake of the Tucson shooting (ditto). He devoted nearly all of the address to the overriding issue of the economy, repeating the word “jobs” 45 times in 61 minutes.

The speech follows a series of seismic changes at the White House in the wake of sagging presidential job-approval ratings and a stern rebuke from voters in the midterm elections. In the past few months, the president has overhauled his inner circle of White House from hard-charging lefties to more accommodating centrists. However, Obama offered no mea culpa, no lessons learned, for anything he’s done over the past two years and defended his signature health care law. But he also argued that only by expanding spending on clean energy, science and math education and the nation’s infrastructure could the United States expect to “win the future” — that is, to thrive against such emerging powerhouses as China and India.

President Barack Obama’s shift toward more centrist policies has boosted his popularity among most Americans. But liberals aren’t too happy about it. “As the president touts spending austerity, deficit reduction and extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, some Democrats worry Obama will pivot too hard away from the party’s core principles and concede too much to the new House GOP majority that campaigned on destroying his agenda,” the Politico news service states.

  • Although Obama is moving toward center for purely political reasons, it raises hope that the new Congress members will be able to forge some success against Obamacare and debt. However, beneath his political skin, Obama remains a committed socialist and New World Order supporter.

Republican Lawmakers Target U.N.

Newly empowered Republican lawmakers are taking their first shots at the United Nations, depicting it as bloated and ineffective as they seek to cut U.S. funding for the world body. Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs committee, is seeking cuts and has introduced a bill intended to pressure the United Nations to change the way it operates and to make dues voluntary. She also is promising investigations into possible corruption and mismanagement. Congress at various times has withheld funding from the world organization, but last year, under Democratic leadership in both the House and the Senate, the United States paid its dues in full as well as some back dues. The United States is the largest single contributor to the U.N. responsible for 22% of its regular budget and 27% of the funding for its peacekeeping operations.

  • In recent years, the U.N. has aligned itself against American and Christian interests and is not deserving of continued U.S. support

Terrorists Attack Unprotected Areas of Airports

The suicide bombing at a busy international airport outside Moscow exposes the vulnerable underbelly of airports in this country and around the world, several security experts and former anti-terrorist government officials say. Terrorists have long sought to disrupt aviation through hijackings and bombings. Since many of those recent attempts have failed at least partly because of heightened security, experts say, it makes sense that terrorists would launch attacks on the unprotected zones of an airport: baggage claim areas, ticket counters, security check-in lines and curbside areas where passengers are picked up and dropped off. In this country, anyone can walk up to a baggage claim area, which during peak hours can be a chaotic sea of travelers and their baggage. The bomb in Russia went off Monday afternoon in a crowded terminal where people awaited arriving passengers. As in this country, strict security checks occur only for those about to board a plane.

Authorities Fear Cops Being Targeted

Authorities are worried a recent wave of police officer shootings may not be a coincidence. In just 24 hours, at least 11 cops were shot around the country. The most recent incident at a fugitive’s house in St. Petersburg, Fla., left two officers dead and a U.S. marshal wounded Monday. Hours earlier, an Oregon officer was critically wounded after being shot multiple times during a traffic stop. Monday’s violence followed a bloody Sunday that left an officer in Indianapolis critically wounded during a traffic stop shooting, four officers in Indianapolis wounded after a gunman opened fire in a precinct and two more officers in Washington wounded in a shootout in a Walmart parking lot. “It’s not a fluke,” Richard Roberts, a spokesman for the International Union of Police Associations, told MSNBC.com “There’s a perception among officers in the field that there’s a war on cops going on.” According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, an organization that tracks police casualties, officer deaths were up 43 percent in 2010 compared to 2009.

Up to 35% of Wounded Soldiers Addicted to Drugs

Medical officials estimate that 25% to 35% of about 10,000 ailing soldiers assigned to special wounded-care companies or battalions are addicted or dependent on drugs — particularly prescription narcotic pain relievers, according to an Army inspector general’s report made public Tuesday. The report also found that these formations known as Warrior Transition Units — created after reports detailed poorly managed care at Walter Reed Army Hospital — have become costly way stations where ill, injured or wounded soldiers can wait more than a year for a medical discharge. Some soldiers have become so irate about the delays in leaving the Army that doctors, nurses and other medical staff say they have been assaulted in their offices and threatened, or had their private cars damaged or tires flattened, the report says. Most case managers and nurses interviewed by investigators said 25% to 35% of soldiers in warrior units “are over-medicated, abuse prescriptions and have access to illegal drugs.” They said most soldiers arrive in the units with narcotics provided by battlefield doctors or military hospitals.

Gitmo Detainee Gets Life Sentence

A judge sentenced the first Guantanamo detainee to have a U.S. civilian trial to life in prison Tuesday, saying anything he suffered at the hands of the CIA and others “pales in comparison to the suffering and the horror” caused by the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998. U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan sentenced Ahmed Ghailani to life, calling the attacks “horrific” and saying the deaths and damage they caused far outweighs “any and all considerations that have been advanced on behalf of the defendant.” The judge said he wanted a sentence that “makes it crystal clear that others engaged or contemplating engaging in deadly acts of terrorism risk enormously serious consequences.”

New Nutrition Labels Coming

Grocery shoppers will soon see the amount of calories, salt, sugar and saturated fat per serving plastered on the front of many popular food and beverage packages. On Monday, the food industry unveiled its voluntary front-of-pack labeling, called Nutrition Keys, designed to help make healthful choices. The Nutrition Keys also can include up to two other nutrients, such as potassium, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, iron or protein. Consumers will start seeing the labels on some food packages in the next few months, but they won’t be widely found until the end of the year. The program applies to packaged foods, but not fresh foods such as individual bananas or apples.

Economic News

Americans were more optimistic about jobs and the overall economy in January, pushing the latest reading on consumer confidence to its highest level since May 2010. The Consumer Confidence Index shot up to 60.6 in January, from 53.3 in December, the Conference Board, a New York-based research group that compiles the index, said Tuesday. The index is still well below a healthy reading. An overall reading above 90 indicates the economy is solid, and 100 or above indicates strong growth.

General Motors sold more cars and trucks in China last year than it did in the U.S., for the first time in the company’s 102-year history. Despite GM’s growth in China, Toyota Motor held onto the title of world’s largest automaker. The Japanese company reported 8.42 million sales worldwide last year. That’s 30,000 more than GM’s 8.39 million. GM said Monday that it sold 2.35 million vehicles in fast-growing China, about 136,000 more than it sold in the U.S., with China sales surging 29% as an expanding middle class gained wealth. Sales in the U.S., including heavy-duty vehicles, rose 6.3% as GM continued to rebound from its 2009 stay in bankruptcy protection.

Toyota announced another massive global recall today: Nearly 1.7 million cars — including Lexus IS and GS sedans in the U.S. — for two fuel leak problems. Toyota says it has no reports of accidents or deaths, but has had 75 complaints in North America and more than 140 unhappy owners in Japan. The latest recalls show Toyota is simply trying to come clean quickly on any problem — after paying record fines in the U.S. in government probes of foot-dragging on reporting and fixing previous serious flaws. But it’s also clear that President Akio Toyoda’s vow to return Toyota to its perch as a world standard for quality is going to take a long time.

President Obama called Tuesday for an end to federal subsidies for oil companies, proposing instead to use the money to promote biofuels and electric vehicles. “With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015,” Obama said in his State of the Union address to Congress. He set a goal of having 80% of U.S. electricity come from clean energy sources — which he described as solar, wind, clean coal, natural gas, nuclear power — by 2035.

J.C. Penney is closing some stores, outlets and call center locations and continuing to work on an exit from its catalog business in an effort to streamline operations and boost profits. Penney plans to close six underperforming stores and two call center locations. The retailer’s exit of its legacy catalog business includes shuttering 19 outlet stores that carry a large amount of catalog merchandise.

Britain’s economy contracted by half a percent in the last three months of 2010, official data showed Tuesday, shocking markets which had expected a continued recovery. Severe winter weather in December had a strong impact, particularly on the construction sector, the Office for National Statistics said. Not counting the effect of the snow, which snarled transport and kept people away from shops before Christmas, it estimated GDP would have been flat — still well below market expectations for at least 0.4% growth. Analysts warned that the underlying performance of the British economy had taken a severe hit, casting doubt over the government’s plans for sharp spending cuts and tax hikes.

Cocoa prices shot higher on Monday after the internationally recognized leader of Ivory Coast, the world’s largest producer of cocoa beans, called for a one-month ban on exports. Prices have risen 12% since Jan. 5. The export ban was proposed by Alassane Ouattara as a move to choke off funding for the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to concede defeat in the recent election. It is unclear whether the ban will be heeded by cocoa growers or how it will be enforced.


Two suicide bombers, including a female terrorist, were responsible for the blast at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport that killed 35 people, the Russian media reported Monday. Witnesses say the suicide bomber shouted “I’ll kill you all!” before detonating the explosives. Following the suicide bombing at Russia’s largest airport, President Dmitry Medvedev called Tuesday for full security checks to be conducted at all transport hubs and for government officials to be held accountable for security lapses. Medvedev said management of Domodedovo Airport must share responsibility for security failures that contributed to the blast Monday, which also injured 180 people. He described security at the airport as “simply a state of anarchy.” No claims of responsibility have been issued. Islamic militants in the southern Russian region of Chechnya have been blamed for previous attacks in Moscow, including a double suicide bombing on the capital’s subway system in March 2010 that killed 40 people. If Monday’s attack was by Chechen insurgents, it could indicate an ominous new strategy — unlike previous attacks, it targeted an area where foreigners were likely to gather.


Afghanistan’s president said Monday that he will honor a deal not to further delay the inauguration of the country’s new parliament, in an attempt to end a standoff with incoming lawmakers that has threatened to spark a constitutional crisis. Hamid Karzai, however, rejected the lawmakers’ other demand to dissolve a disputed tribunal investigating allegations of fraud in September’s parliamentary election. “The Supreme Court has the authority to address those allegations through a special tribunal,” Karzai said in defending the panel of judges set up in late December.

Foreign military assertions that security in Afghanistan is improving are intended to influence Western public opinion ahead of a troop withdrawal and do not reflect the reality on the ground, a security group said. “Indisputable evidence” that conditions are deteriorating included a two-thirds rise in insurgent attacks in 2010 compared with the previous year, according to an EU-funded organization that advises aid groups on safety. The Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO), which advises non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on security, disputes Obama’s claims that “notable operational gains” had been made and the Taliban’s momentum arrested in much of the country.


The candidate backed by Iranian-allied Hezbollah was designated Tuesday to form Lebanon’s next government, angering Sunnis who protested the rising power of the Shiite militant group by burning tires and torching a van belonging to Al-Jazeera. The president appointed Harvard-educated billionaire businessman and former premier Najib Mikati as prime minister-designate after a majority of lawmakers voted for him. Mikati defeated U.S.-backed Saad Hariri, who was prime minister from 2009 until Hezbollah forced the unity government he led to collapse two weeks ago. The vote caps Hezbollah’s steady rise over the past few decades from a resistance group fighting Israel to Lebanon’s most powerful military and political force.


Authorities clashed with anti-government protesters outside the prime minister’s office Monday, teachers went on strike, and police demanded the right to form a union as Tunisia struggled to stabilize itself after its president was overthrown. As the crowd grew rowdy, police fired tear gas grenades in the air, and some demonstrators shattered the windows of police cars. Schools were set to reopen Monday after protracted closure because of the unrest, but teachers went on strike. Some students joined the demonstrations instead of heading to their classrooms. The protesters are angry that holdovers from former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s regime have leading posts in the interim government in place since last week. Noisy street demonstrations have continued since Ben Ali’s departure, but most have been peaceful.


People across Egypt took to the streets on Tuesday in demonstrations against corruption and failing economic policies, rallies partly inspired by similar protests that rocked Tunisia this month. Thousands were protesting in the capital of Cairo, according to the “Front to Defend Egypt Protesters,” an alliance of lawyers who helped organize the events. At first, witnesses said, the police were restrained in Cairo. But later, they said, police fired around a dozen rounds of tear gas on the protesters, and people in the crowd threw the canisters back at the officers. By early Tuesday morning, more than 90,000 people throughout the country had pledged to participate in the event in a Facebook group called “We Are All Khaled Said,” named after an Alexandria activist who was allegedly beaten to death by police. The Facebook group demands raising the minimum wage, sacking the interior minister, creating two-term presidential term limits and scrapping existing emergency laws that the group says “resulted in police control” over the people and the nation. Thousands of riot police were deployed across the Egyptian capital on Wednesday in anticipation of fresh anti-government, Tunisia-inspired protests.


Train equipment froze, cars sputtered, schools canceled classes and cold-weather enthusiasts opted to stay inside Monday as a bitter blast of below-zero temperatures with promises of minus-50 wind chills gripped the Northeast. The gasp-inducing cold tested the mettle even of New Englanders, who pride themselves on winter hardiness. Schools in western and northeastern Pennsylvania, across upstate New York and parts of Vermont and New Hampshire closed their doors or delayed openings to protect students from temperatures that dropped to minus 27 or even lower. Amtrak suspended service between Albany and New York City, saying the extreme cold affected signals and switches. In New York, the city doubled the number of outreach vans it sends out looking for homeless people in such cold, checking on street people every two hours. A fast-moving but intense winter storm is forecast to dump several inches of heavy, wet snow across the big cities of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast today and early Thursday.

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