Islamist Militants Behind ‘Protests’ Toppling Arab Regimes

Islamists stand to gain the most from the so-called popular revolts targeting the regimes of Egypt, Yemin, and Tunisia, Israeli and Middle Eastern security officials warned Friday. The security officials said the hands of Islamists can be seen in the orchestration of the street protests, which have been championed by the White House and painted by much of the world news media as popular uprisings. In recent days, violent protests have targeted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak as well as Yemen’s leader, Ali Abullah Saleh, who is a U.S. ally. Islamist militants toppled the 23-year rule of President Zine Abidine Ben Ali, who fled Tunisia Jan. 14. Also, the terrorist group Hezbollah collapsed the Lebanese government, which is in the process of forming a new government led by a Hezbollah-backed prime minister.

The news media largely has painted the revolts in Yemen, Tunisia and Egypt as popular unrest, citing the use of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to make the arrangements for the demonstrations. Israeli security officials told WorldNetDaily the Islamists have been taking advantage of populous sentiment against the Arab regimes to work up the masses into revolt that can usher in stronger Islamic rule.

Obama’s Spending Freeze ‘Insult to Our Intelligence’

The spending freeze that President Barack Obama proposed in his State of the Union address Tuesday is so small as to be meaningless, says Roger Pilon, legal affairs vice president for the Cato Institute. Pilon’s criticism, echoes the observations of several pundits, politicians, and political observers who are questioning the size and duration of the freeze in light of the nation’s ballooning debt. On Politico, Pilon writes: “With uncontrolled deficits well into the future and a debt exceeding $14 trillion, for Obama to propose saving only $40 billion per year in discretionary spending over the next five years, while ‘investing’ in pie-in-the-sky things like high-speed rail, wind farms, environmentally destructive ethanol, and the like is worse than unserious — it’s an insult to our intelligence. Like Obama, many Republicans too treat military spending, among other things, as sacrosanct, but at least they’re proposing more serious budget cuts.” We must first slash entitlement spending and then wasteful welfare spending to bring the budget back into balance, says James Carafano, assistant director of The Heritage Foundation’s Institute for International Studies.

  • With a socialistic government and a sense of entitlement among the general public, serious debt reform is mostly a pipedream

Social Security Fund Slides into Permanent Deficit

Social Security’s finances are getting worse as the economy struggles to recover and millions of baby boomers stand at the brink of retirement. Congressional projections show Social Security running deficits every year until its trust funds are eventually drained in about 2037. This year alone, Social Security is projected to collect $45 billion less in payroll taxes than it pays out in retirement, disability and survivor benefits, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday. That figure swells to $130 billion when a new one-year cut in payroll taxes is included, though Congress has promised to repay any lost revenue from the tax cut.

Birthright Citizenship Fight Begins in Arizona

Arizona is returning to the international spotlight with Thursday’s introduction of legislation that would strip illegal immigrants’ U.S.-born children of their citizenship and create a two-tiered, birth-certificate process. The intent is to attract a legal challenge that could eventually lead to the U.S. Supreme Court reconsidering whether the 14th Amendment truly grants citizenship to such children. The bills have the benefit of an even more conservative Republican Legislature than Senate Bill 1070 enjoyed last year as well as public support for tough immigration measures. But the bills’ passage isn’t a sure bet. Some lawmakers say the state needs to focus on the economy or securing the border instead of the distraction of another immigration controversy. The 14th Amendment states that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” House Bill 2561 and Senate Bill 1309 would define children as citizens of Arizona and the U.S. if at least one of their parents was either a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent U.S. resident and therefore subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.

Boomers Launch Encore Careers to Help Others

A growing “encore careers” movement among retiring boomers has launched an effort to match older workers who can’t or don’t want to retire with public service jobs that benefit society. The movement, begun in the late 1990s, has spawned non-profit groups and programs from Boston to Portland, Ore., aimed at helping older workers find new work. Many of the programs are run by people who have made the transition. At a time when 77 million Baby Boomers ages 46-65 are moving toward traditional retirement age, analysts say the movement could grow exponentially in the coming decades. A 2008 survey by MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures, a national think tank on boomers and work, found more than 5 million Americans in encore careers.

Number of U.S. Muslims to Double

Muslims will be more than one-quarter of the Earth’s population by 2030, according to a study released today. The number of U.S. Muslims will more than double, so you are as likely to know a Muslim here in 20 years as you are to know someone Jewish or Episcopalian today. U.S. Muslims will go from a tiny minority now, less than 1% of the nation, to 1.7%. That’s a jump from 2.6 million people in 2010 to 6.2 million. Those are among key findings in “The Future of the Global Muslim Population,” the first comprehensive examination of Muslims, whose numbers have been growing at a faster rate than all other groups combined. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life analyzed statistics from United Nations data and census material from more than 200 countries and studies by 50 international demographers.

Senate Rejects Changes in Filibuster Rules

The filibuster lives on. The Senate voted overwhelmingly late Thursday to reject efforts to change its rules to restrict the blockades that have sewn gridlock and discord in recent years on Capitol Hill. Instead, senators settled on a more modest measure to prevent single lawmakers from anonymously holding up legislation and nominations, and the parties’ Senate leaders announced a handshake deal to conduct business in a more efficient and civilized way. Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada and Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, also endorsed legislation, to be drawn up later, to break the logjam of confirmations of presidential appointments by reducing by as much as a third the number of appointees subject to Senate approval. Senators were emphatic in their votes against limiting the filibuster, a treasured right of minorities trying to prevent majorities from running roughshod over them.

Mortgage Modification Program a ‘Failure’

A mortgage modification program aimed at saving homeowners from foreclosure has failed because regulators are “afraid to rein in or impose penalties on the mortgage servicers” whose record “has been nothing short of abysmal,” the program’s watchdog told Congress Wednesday. Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the government’s bank bailouts, bluntly labeled the mortgage program a “failure” in testimony before the House oversight committee. As a result, some House Republicans moved to scrap the 2-year-old program. Three Republicans, led by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, introduced a bill Tuesday to end the program, saving up to $30 billion in unspent bailout funds.

Financial Panel Pins Blame for Crisis

The financial crisis, which wreaked havoc on the economy and sparked a painful recession, could have been avoided, according to a federal commission. The presidential commission that has probed the causes of the 2008 financial and economic crisis released its findings Thursday in a 545-page book outlining its conclusions. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission blames “reckless” Wall Street firms and “weak” regulators. Naming names, the panel targets the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve for lax enforcement of banks, and former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan for supporting “30 years of deregulation.” The commission recommended that certain financial industry figures and corporations be criminally prosecuted.

Federal Deficit to Reach Record $1.5 trillion

The weak economy and fresh tax cuts approved last month will help drive the federal budget deficit to nearly $1.5 trillion this year, the biggest budget gap in history and one of the largest as a share of the economy since World War II, congressional budget analysts said Wednesday. This year’s deficit will be the highest on record and will equal about 9.8 percent of the economy, the CBO said, slightly smaller than the 2009 budget gap, which at $1.4 trillion amounted to nearly 10 percent of the gross domestic product. However, at a time when policy makers had hoped to begin closing the gap between spending and revenue, the CBO forecast that it is widening again and is on track to remain well above $1 trillion in 2012, the fourth year in a row. As a result, the report said, “debt held by the public will probably jump from 40 percent of GDP at the end of fiscal year 2008 to nearly 70 percent at the end of fiscal year 2011.

  • The key phrase here is “debt held by the public.” Government runs up the debt then holds us accountable for it.

Economic News

The economy gained strength at the end of last year as Americans spent at the fastest pace in four years and U.S. companies sold more overseas. The growth boosts hopes for a stronger 2011. The Commerce Department said Friday that growth rose to an annual rate of 3.2% in the October-December quarter. That’s an improvement from the 2.6% growth in the previous quarter. And it was the best quarterly showing since the start of last year. The economy has now consistently picked up speed since hitting a rough path last spring.

The number of people applying for unemployment benefits rose sharply last week as snowstorms in some parts of the country forced companies to lay off workers. The Labor Department said new applications for benefits surged by a seasonally adjusted 51,000 to 454,000, highest since late October. Snowstorms several weeks ago had kept people from filing claims. Requests for unemployment benefits fell sharply in the previous week to 403,000. Applications below 425,000 tend to signal modest job growth. But they would need to dip consistently to 375,000 or below to indicate a significant decline in the unemployment rate.

Buyers purchased the fewest new homes last year on records going back 47 years. Sales for 2010 totaled 321,000, a drop of 14.4% from the 375,000 homes sold in 2009, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. It was the fifth consecutive year that sales have declined after hitting record highs the five previous years, when the housing market was booming.

Orders for big-ticket manufactured goods fell 2.5% in December, although when volatile transportation orders are removed, they were up 0.5%. Ford earned its largest profit in more than a decade in 2010, as demand for its cars and trucks rose and it benefited from years of restructuring. Ford’s U.S. sales jumped 20% last year, double the rate of the industry. General Motors, in another sign of its progress since a government-led bankruptcy, said Thursday that it is withdrawing its application for $14.4 billion in federal loans it had sought to help build more fuel-efficient cars. GM, which has posted three straight profitable financial quarters since its 2009 bankruptcy said it no longer needed the loans because the company’s cash position has improved.

The pace of foreclosure filings slowed last year in the nation’s hardest-hit housing markets but picked up in other U.S. metropolitan areas. High unemployment drove up foreclosures in 72% of 206 leading metropolitan areas last year. Las Vegas posted the nation’s highest metropolitan foreclosure rate, with one of nine homes receiving a foreclosure filing last year. Nationwide, foreclosure activity rose almost 2%.

Japan

Standard & Poor’s cut Japan’s credit rating for the first time in almost nine years Thursday, issuing a harsh critique of the government’s ability to control its ballooning debt. The agency lowered Japan’s long-term sovereign debt rating one notch to AA-, which is the fourth-highest level and the same rating given to China, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The news sent the dollar as high as 83.18 yen from 82.20 yen. The downgrade is a stern reminder to Japan that it faces consequences for letting its debt swell to twice the size of gross domestic product. Japan and the United States faced new pressure to confront their swollen budget deficits as the IMF and rating agencies demanded more evidence they can bring their public debts under control. The International Monetary Fund said the G7’s two biggest economies needed to spell out credible deficit-cutting plans before the markets lose patience and dump their bonds.

Iraq

Iraqi officials say at least 41 people have been killed and many others wounded when a car bomb ripped through a funeral tent Thursday in a mainly Shiite area of Baghdad. Another series of roadside bombs aimed at Iraqi troops and an electricity official missed their targets but killed three other people. They’re the latest in more than a week of bombings that have killed nearly 200 people, raising concerns about an uptick in violence as the U.S. military prepares to withdraw from the country.

Afghanistan

A bomb exploded inside a grocery store frequented by foreigners on Friday in Kabul. Three foreigners and a child were among the dead, killing at least eight people and injuring others. The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying the attack was against a U.S.-based security contractor. The Afghan army will not collapse when international troops end their combat role, in the way that South Vietnam’s did in the 1970s, NATO’s top officer said Thursday. Italian Adm. Giampaolo Di Paola said the international community intends to remain committed to Afghanistan after NATO forces hand over responsibility to the Afghan security forces in 2014.

Roadside bombs killed 268 American troops in Afghanistan last year, a 60% increase over the year before, even as the Pentagon works to counter the Taliban’s makeshift weapon of choice. The number of U.S. troops wounded by what the military terms improvised explosive devices also soared last year. There were 3,366 U.S. service members injured in IED blasts — up 178% from the 1,211 hurt by the militants’ crudely made bombs in 2009. Defense officials attributed the rise in casualties to the surge in U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan last year and increased fighting across the nation.

Egypt

Thousands of Egyptian anti-government protesters clashed Friday with police in Cairo, who fired rubber bullets into the crowds and used tear gas and water cannons to disperse them. Police also used water cannons against Egypt’s pro-democracy leader Mohamed ElBaradei and his supporters as they joined the latest wave of protests after noon prayers. Egyptian protesters burned a police post in the eastern city of Suez Thursday as demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak continued throughout the entire week. Nobel laureate and opposition leader ElBaradei returned to Egypt Thursday to join the demonstrations that are calling for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. ElBaradei, who once headed the International Atomic Energy Agency, writes in The Daily Beast that he is going back “because, really, there is no choice.” “You go out there with this massive number of people, and you hope things will not turn ugly, but so far, the regime does not seem to have gotten that message,” he writes.

  • An aptly named Islamic newspaper

Tunisia

Tunisia’s foreign minister announced his resignation Thursday, state media reported, as authorities sought to quell unrest by street protesters who want to oust other cronies of deposed former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The TAP news agency announcement about Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane came as the prime minister was expected to reveal the makeup of Tunisia’s second interim government since Ben Ali fled the North African country on Jan. 14 after weeks of protests. Protesters have complained bitterly about corruption, repression and the lack of jobs under Ben Ali’s rule.

Yemen

Tens of thousands of people called for the Yemeni president’s ouster in protests across the country on Thursday inspired by the popular revolt in Tunisia. The demonstrations led by opposition members and youth activists are a significant expansion of the unrest sparked by the Tunisian uprising, which also inspired Egypt’s largest protests in years. They pose a new threat to the stability of the Arab world’s most impoverished nation, which has become the focus of increased Western concern about a resurgent al-Qaeda branch, a northern rebellion and a secessionist movement in the south. “We will not accept anything less than the president leaving,” said independent parliamentarian Ahmed Hashid.

Haiti

Haitian president Rene Preval’s favored successor is dropping out of the country’s disputed election. The coordinator of the ruling Unity party says Wednesday that Jude Celestin will no longer seek the nation’s highest office. That opens the door for a second-round runoff between former first lady Mirlande Manigat and popular singer Michel Martelly. No date has been set for the vote. The United States and other international forces have pressured Haiti’s government to accept a recommendation by Organization of American States experts that would put Celestin out of contention. The Nov. 28 first round suffered fraud and disorganization. Riots followed preliminary results that indicated Celestin would advance to the runoff.

Mexico

A U.S. missionary working in Mexico who brought his mortally wounded wife to the border told authorities in the United States that gunmen in a pickup shot her in the head, police in Texas say. Nancy Davis, 59, died in a South Texas hospital Wednesday about 90 minutes after her husband drove the couple’s truck against traffic across the Pharr International Bridge. Police said the couple are missionaries from South Texas who travel extensively into Mexico. The scene echoed one described four months ago by an American tourist, who said her husband was gunned down by Mexican pirates on a border lake as the couple tried fleeing on Jet Skis

The police chief and all 38 police officers of a northeastern Mexican town have quit following a series of drug cartel attacks, including the decapitation of two of their colleagues. The police quit after the discovery Wednesday of the mutilated bodies of two officers who had been kidnapped by gunmen two days earlier. The killings followed three attacks on the police headquarters since December. Gunmen hurled grenades and sprayed the building with machine-gun fire. Soldiers, state and federal police have been deployed to patrol General Teran, a town along a notorious drug-smuggling route to the U.S. border, said Mayor Ramon Villagomez.

Weather

Still digging out from the latest winter storm, people on the East Coast face more snow this weekend and the possibility of another whopper next week. Residents across the East Coast Thursday woke up to roof collapses, power outages, stranded cars and delays of all kinds after a fast-moving winter storm dumped up to 19 inches in some areas of the region. Blinding snow was still hitting parts of New England Thursday morning. Boston, which has had more than 50 inches of snow this winter, was expected to get another foot. New York City, which got 15 inches of snow, averaged a snowfall rate of 2 inches an hour from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. Air travel was all but shut down at two major airports in the New York area. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday authorized a two- hour delayed opening for all state offices due to the storm, which dumped more than a foot of snow in many parts of the state.

Storms that have whipped much of the nation this month are being blamed for a serious shortfall in blood donations. The American Red Cross says its national blood supply is at the lowest level for January in 10 years because winter storms and resulting travel disruptions caused cancellation of 14,000 donations. The shortage is most severe in the Northeast, which has been hammered with January snow. The Red Cross has issued new appeals for donations to replenish supplies and is asking its sponsoring organizations, such as companies and churches that frequently organize blood drives and host donation sites, to schedule new drives and contact regular donors.

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