Uncertainty Clouds Middle East

The United States faces an intensely uncertain future in Egypt, a stalwart ally of decades in the volatile Middle East, where key tenets of American foreign policy are now thrown into doubt. For many people in Egypt, they were years of oppression, corruption and poverty; but for the U.S., Mubarak was an anchor of stability at the helm of the world’s largest Arab nation, enforcing a peace treaty with Israel and protecting vital U.S. interests, including passage for oil through the Suez Canal. The U.S. provides some $1.5 billion a year in aid to Egypt, the vast majority of it to the military, and has a good relationship with the Egyptian military, which often sends officers here for training. That doesn’t guarantee a commanding U.S. role. On Saturday, Egypt’s first day in nearly 30 years without Hosni Mubarak as president, its new military rulers promised to abide by the peace treaty with Israel.

U.S. Intel Chiefs on Defensive over Egypt

Top U.S. intelligence officials defended their tracking of fast-moving political unrest in Egypt and Tunisia on Thursday, saying their officers in the region had filed hundreds of reports warning of the growing instability months before demonstrators took to the streets to oppose their governments. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said U.S. intelligence officers had done “yeoman’s work” in tracking the instability, particularly in Egypt, where he likened the developments that are threatening the government of President Hosni Mubarak to a political “earthquake.” “You know where the fault lines are … but trying to predict the onset of the earthquake is a little more difficult,” Clapper told the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

During a House Intelligence Committee hearing Thursday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called Egypt’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood movement “largely secular.” In response to questioning from Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) about the threat posed by the group, Clapper suggested that the Egyptian part of the Brotherhood is not particularly extreme and that the broader international movement is hard to generalize about. “They have pursued social ends, a betterment of the political order in Egypt…..In other countries, there are also chapters or franchises of the Muslim Brotherhood, but there is no overarching agenda, particularly in pursuit of violence, at least internationally,” Clapper said.

  • Clapper is either so out of touch with reality as to appear delusional, or he is a dupe of the New World Order globalists. With respect to the major political earthquakes over the past fifty years or so, our vaunted and excessively funded intelligence network has proven woefully inadequate. The return on our investment is so low as to warrant major budget cuts.

Obama to Propose a Five-Year Spending Freeze

President Obama on Monday will unveil his budget proposal for fiscal year 2012, including a five-year freeze on domestic spending. The White House says the freeze will help reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade. President Obama’s $3.7 trillion budget plan for 2012 would trim Pell college grants and low-income heating aid, raise taxes on upper-income taxpayers and oil companies, and slash $1.1 trillion from the deficit over 10 years. Yet the spending plan still would result in a 2012 deficit of $1.1 trillion. Even those figures are dependent on raising some taxes in 2013 that Obama agreed to cut for the next two years at the behest of Republicans— income taxes for those earning more than $250,000 and estate taxes for upper-income families. Monday’s release of next year’s budget plan will be likely ignored by resurgent Republicans intent on cutting $100 billion from the president’s old budget.

House GOP Unveils $61B Spending Cut Plan

House Republicans called for cuts in hundreds of programs across the face of government Friday night in a $61 billion savings package toughened at the last minute at the demand of tea party-backed conservatives. From education to job training, the environment and nutrition, few domestic programs were left untouched — and some were eliminated — in the measure, which is expected to reach the floor for a vote next week. Among the programs targeted for elimination are Americorps and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In contrast, spending on defense and veterans’ programs were protected. The measure marks an initial down payment by newly empowered Republicans on their promise to rein in federal deficits and reduce the size of government.

Administration Offers 3 Options for Mortgage Market Overhaul

The Obama administration laid out three broad options Friday for reducing the government’s role in the mortgage market. All three would almost certainly lead to higher interest rates and costs for borrowers. The administration said in a report that the government should withdraw its support for the mortgage market slowly, over five years or more. The report describes a path for winding down the troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But rather than making a single recommendation, the administration offered Congress three scenarios and will let lawmakers shape the final policy. The options are: No government role, except for existing agencies like the Federal Housing Administration; A government guarantee of private mortgages triggered only when the market is in trouble; Government insurance for a targeted range of mortgage investments that already are guaranteed by private insurers. The government guarantee would kick in only if those private companies couldn’t pay.

Tween Evangelist? Justin Bieber Film Packed with Prayer

With a smooth voice, a signature mop of hair and a string of hits, Justin Bieber has accumulated millions of fans and sold 3.7 million albums in the United States last year. Now Bieber’s handlers are showcasing another side of the 16-year-old pop sensation: Christian icon for the tween set. Bieber’s faith is on display in the new 3-D concert film/documentary Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, which hits theaters Friday (Feb. 11). Paramount Pictures has screened the movie for faith leaders across the country and distributed spiritual discussion guides — the same tools used to promote The Passion of the Christ and The Blind Side as family-friendly fare. Bieber has never shied away from faith. He was singing Christian songs on YouTube before he became famous. His born-again Christian mother Pattie Mallette has shared her spiritual conversion on a Christian TV show and openly shares her beliefs and Bible verses with 281,000-plus Twitter followers. Bieber’s come-from-nowhere climb to become the fourth top-selling artist of 2010 has given a higher profile to his Christian beliefs and background, which he also addressed in last fall’s autobiography, First Step 2 Forever: My Story.

California Wants Gays, Lesbians & Transsexuals as Mandatory ‘Role’ Models

Lawmakers in the state of California are proposing a law that would require schools to portray lesbians, homosexuals, transsexuals and those who have chosen other alternative sexual lifestyles as positive role models to children in all public schools there. “SB 48: The worst school sexual indoctrination ever” is how officials with the Campaign for Children and Families describe the proposal, SB 48 sponsored by openly homosexual State Senator Mark Leno. The plan by “homosexual activist” Leno “would require all students in social studies class to admire ‘lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender’ role models. “The Democrat state legislators pushing this radical bill want to recruit boys and girls to support the homosexual-bisexual-transsexual agenda, personally and publicly,” the organization’s Action Alert warns.

Illegal Immigrant Charged With First-Degree Murder in Virginia

A Salvadoran man who was ordered deported nearly a decade ago but never left has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder in a series of shootings and a knife attack in a Virginia suburb of Washington, authorities said Friday. Jose Oswaldo Reyes Alfaro, an illegal immigrant, was charged in the pair of attacks blocks apart Thursday night that left three people dead and three others injured. The killings touched off further discussion of illegal immigration in Manassas and surrounding Prince William County, which was one of the early flashpoints in the national debate over whether local authorities should play a role in enforcing the nation’s immigration laws. “It’s another abject failure of the federal government,” said state Delegate Jackson Miller, R-Manassas, a former city council member and police officer. “Yet it happens over and over and over again, and then we have to hear all of these apologetic excuses as to why we shouldn’t be addressing criminal illegal aliens on the state or local level. It’s just disgusting.”

More Older Students Head to College

The economic downturn has generated even more interest in higher education among non-traditional students. In January, the unemployment rate for adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 4.2%, vs. 9.4% for high school graduates with no college education. Some economists believe that due to structural changes in the economy, thousands of jobs in manufacturing and other sectors that typically didn’t require a college degree will never come back. About half of today’s college students are enrolled part time, 38% work full time, and 27% have dependents. Colleges and universities are responding by expanding evening classes, developing online curriculums and offering courses at satellite locations.

Housing Crash Is Hitting Cities Once Thought to Be Stable

The rolling real estate crash that ravaged Florida and the Southwest is delivering a new wave of distress to communities once thought to be immune — economically diversified cities where the boom was relatively restrained. In the last year, home prices in Seattle had a bigger decline than in Las Vegas. Minneapolis dropped more than Miami, and Atlanta fared worse than Phoenix. The bubble markets, where builders, buyers and banks ran wild, began falling first, economists say, so they are close to the end of the cycle and in some cases on their way back up. Nearly everyone else still has another season of pain to endure. The fact that even a fairly prosperous area like Seattle was ensnared in the downturn shows just how much of a national phenomenon the crash has been. Seattle real estate sales are down about 31 percent from its mid-2007 peak. As the overall economy seems to be mending, housing remains stubbornly weak. That presents a vexing problem for the Obama administration, which has introduced several initiatives intended to help homeowners, with mixed success.

States Aim Ax at Health Cost of Retirement

Governors and mayors facing large deficits have set their sights on a relatively new target — the soaring expense of health benefits for millions of retired state and local workers. As they contend with growing budget deficits and higher pension costs, some mayors are complaining that their outlays for retiree health benefits are rising by 20 percent a year — a result of the wave of retirements of baby boomers and longer life expectancies on top of the double-digit rate of health care inflation. The nation’s governors face a daunting $555 billion in unfunded liabilities to finance retiree health coverage. Michigan officials complain that retiree health obligations consume one-seventh of the state’s payroll costs, and New York City is slated to pay $2 billion toward retiree health next year. In state after state, changes are occurring rapidly. For example, New Hampshire has stopped financing health insurance for many future retirees, while North Carolina has begun requiring state employees to work 20 years, up from five years, to qualify for full retiree health benefits.

Economic News

The trade deficit widened in December, closing out a year in which America’s gap ballooned by the largest amount in a decade. The deficit increased 5.9% in December to $40.6 billion, the Commerce Department reported Friday. U.S. exports of goods and services rose to $163 billion, a 1.8% gain, but imports rose even faster. A 2.6% gain pushed total U.S. imports to $203.5 billion, the highest level since October 2008. The increase was led by a 16.8% rise in imported oil. For all of 2010, the U.S. trade deficit rose to $497.8 billion, a 32.8% surge. n 2009, the deficit had fallen to the lowest point in eight years as demand for imports plunged. Economists believe the deficit will keep widening in 2011.

The International Monetary Fund issued a report last week on a possible replacement for the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. The IMF said Special Drawing Rights, or SDRs, could help stabilize the global financial system. SDRs represent potential claims on the currencies of IMF members. They can be converted into whatever currency a borrower requires at exchange rates based on a weighted basket of international currencies. The IMF typically lends countries funds denominated in SDRs. While they are not a tangible currency, some economists argue that SDRs could be used as a less volatile alternative to the U.S. dollar.

  • The globalists are chomping at the bit to reduce U.S. influence in the world

Most of the 26,000 white-collar workers at General Motors will get performance bonuses of 4% to 16% of their base salaries this year, but payments to a small number could be 50% or more, the company confirmed late Thursday. Chrysler Group also will give bonuses to white-collar workers, with payments expected on Friday. Both companies needed government bailouts in 2008 and 2009 to stay in business and make it through bankruptcy protection. Both companies have performed far better financially than they did before bankruptcy. GM made $4.2 billion in the first three quarters of the year and is expected to post a fourth-quarter profit in the coming weeks. Chrysler lost $652 million last year but is predicting a net profit this year.

Egypt

Hundreds of thousands of protesters screamed and cheered Friday as it was announced that President Hosni Mubarak was stepping down. Chanting “Free Egypt!” the crowds exploded in jubilant cries of joy, blaring car horns, dancing in the streets, waving flags and singing after 18 days of protests finally ousted Mubarak. Egypt’s military rulers have promised the country will abide by its international agreements, a nod to allay concerns that Egypt’s peace deal with Israel could be threatened. Egypt’s military rulers are dissolving the parliament and suspending the constitution, meeting two key demands of pro-democracy protesters. Both the lower and upper houses of parliament are being dissolved. The last parliamentary elections in November and December were heavily rigged by the ruling party, virtually shutting out any opposition representation. The caretaker Cabinet, which was appointed by Mubarak shortly after the mass pro-democracy protests began on Jan. 25, will remain in place until a new Cabinet in formed.

The military said they will run the country for six months, or until presidential and parliament elections can be held. The military leaders said they were forming a committee to amend the constitution and set the rules for popular referendum to endorse the amendments. Now Egyptians, who have been led since 1954 by former military leaders, must decide who their new president will be. After 30 years without choice, Egyptians now face a dizzying array of potential leaders. In the scramble for power among groups of various political identity, the Muslim Brotherhood — an Islamist militant group that has held as many as 20% of the seats in Egypt’s parliament in recent years — is vowing to increase its influence on daily life in Egypt.

Yemen

Yemeni police clashed Sunday with anti-government protesters staging a third-consecutive day of demonstrations calling for political reforms and the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Several thousand protesters, many of them university students, tried to reach the central square in the capital of Sanaa, but were pushed back by police using clubs. The ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak after an 18-day uprising has emboldened protesters in Yemen and raised questions about the country’s stability as well as other Western-allied governments in the region. Saleh has been in power for three decades and has tried to defuse the unrest by promising not to run again. His term ends in 2013.

Algeria

Heavily outnumbered by riot police, thousands of Algerians defied government warnings and dodged barricades to rally in their capital Saturday, demanding democratic reforms a day after mass protests toppled Egypt’s autocratic ruler. Protesters chanting “No to the police state!” and brandishing signs that read “Give us back our Algeria” clashed with baton-wielding police in helmets and visors. Organizers said more than 400 people were briefly detained, but aside from some jostling between police and protesters no violence was reported. An estimated 10,000 people succeeded in jostling, squeezing and jumping over the barricades and gathering in the city center before the protest was broken up.

Middle East

The Palestinian prime minister dissolved his Cabinet in an emergency meeting on Monday in what appeared to be a gesture inspired by unrest rocking the Arab world. The official Wafa news agency said the move was intended to prepare for general elections planned later this year. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad now has six weeks to name a new Cabinet. The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank on Saturday promised to hold long-overdue general elections by September, a surprise move spurred by political unrest rocking the Arab. In principle, elections could help end the deep political split between West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas and the Islamic militant Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, the other territory the Palestinians want for their state. Hamas immediately ruled out participation. Still, it could become difficult for Hamas to reject elections at a time of growing calls for democracy throughout the Middle East. Hamas itself has praised the downfall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as a victory for the Egyptian people.

Bahrain

Bahrain’s security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse anti-government protesters Monday in advance of plans to stage major rallies and bring the Arab reform wave to the Gulf for the first time. The sporadic unrest since late Sunday underscores the sharply rising tensions in the tiny island kingdom — a strategic Western ally and home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. Social media sites have been flooded with calls by an array of political youth groups, rights activists and others to join demonstrations later Monday, a symbolic day in Bahrain as the anniversary of the country’s 2002 constitution that brought pro-democracy reforms such as an elected parliament. But opposition groups seek deeper changes from the country’s ruling dynasty, including transferring more decision-making powers to the parliament and breaking the monarchy’s grip on senior government posts. Bahrain’s majority Shiites — about 70% of the population — have long complained of systemic discrimination by the Sunni rulers.

Afghanistan

Taliban insurgents armed with bombs, automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades attacked the Kandahar police headquarters Saturday during a bloody assault on the southern Afghan city that killed at least 21 people and wounded dozens more. The bold afternoon raid showed insurgents are still able to launch deadly strikes on heavily fortified government institutions despite the past year’s influx of U.S. troops into Kandahar province, the Taliban’s birthplace. Fifteen of those killed were Afghan police officers. The police post is located in central Kandahar, not far from the governor’s offices.

Iraq

A suicide bomber blew himself up Saturday on a bus carrying Shiite pilgrims, officials said, killing 36 people headed back from a revered shrine that has been a flashpoint in Iraqi sectarian strife. It was the second attack in three days targeting visitors to the al-Askari mosque in the former insurgent stronghold of Samarra, north of Baghdad, for commemorations of the death of a ninth century religious figure who is buried there. The shrine is still being rebuilt after its golden dome was destroyed in a Feb. 22, 2006, bombing that was blamed on al-Qaeda in Iraq and sparked years of retaliatory bloodshed between Sunnis and Shiites.

Pakistan

In a show of the escalating diplomatic rift over a detained American in Pakistan, the U.S. cancelled talks in Washington involving high level officials from Pakistan, Afghanistan and the U.S. “in light of the political changes in Pakistan,” as reported the Wall Street Journal. The man is reportedly Raymond Davis, an employee of a U.S.-based security company who was working under contract for the U.S. government in Pakistan, has been detained after authorities say he shot and killed two armed men. He will likely to be charged with murder. The U.S. government has given few details about the man, who it hasn’t officially named. The embassy in Islamabad said the man, who it claims fired in self-defense, is covered by diplomatic immunity and should be immediately released.

Mexico

Armed men opened fire and hurled a grenade into a crowded Guadalajara nightclub early Saturday, killing six people and wounding at least 37 in a western city whose former tranquility has been shattered by escalating battles among drug cartels. The attack in Mexico’s second-largest municipality took place just hours after a shootout between soldiers and presumed cartel gunmen left eight people, including an innocent driver, dead in the northeastern city of Monterrey. Monterrey is Mexico’s third-largest city. While there have been isolated grenade attacks around the city, Saturday’s was the first to be thrown into a crowd and cause so many injuries.

Earthquakes

A magnitude-6.8 earthquake struck central Chile Friday, centered in almost exactly the same spot where last year’s magnitude-8.8 quake spawned a tsunami and devastated coastal communities. Electricity and phone service were disrupted and thousands of people fled to higher ground following Friday’s quake, but the government quickly announced that there was no risk of a tsunami, and there were no reports of damage or injuries. In the following hours, a dozen aftershocks ranging from magnitude-3.9 to magnitude-6.3 shook the seismically active area.

Weather

After weeks of bitter cold and intense blizzards, the USA got a break this past weekend with significantly warmer weather and no big storms. A warming trend spread across the Midwest and South and into most of the Northeast over the weekend and will continue into early next week. Temperatures will be above average nearly coast to coast. Only the Pacific Northwest and Florida will be slightly below average.

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