Obama Blames Republican for Supercommittee Failure

The Obama administration is using Congress’ own leverage against it, signaling it will go through with $55 billion a year in defense cuts if Congress can’t find at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction before the next election. President Obama said that Republican opposition to higher taxes on the wealthy led to the collapse of the congressional “supercommittee” assigned to slow the growth of the nation’s $15 trillion debt. Obama urged Congress to keep working at it and sought to pressure lawmakers by saying he would veto any attempt to shut off automatic budget cuts that will take effect in 2013 if Congress is unable to agree on a deficit reduction plan. Obama spoke shortly after the leaders of the supercommittee said they have been unable to agree on a debt plan, an announcement that drew finger-pointing from both parties. The key differences: Democrats wanted to protect Medicare and Social Security from too large a reduction, while Republicans wanted to avoid what could be a major tax increase on the wealthy at the end of 2012.

  • If things aren’t done Obama’s way, he calls it a failure to compromise. It’s no longer partisan politics at fault here but rather an inability of both sides to grasp that draconian measures are needed since we’re now toppling over the tipping point. Worries about getting re-elected are what’s preventing action.

Next Congressional Battle: Payroll Taxes

With the super committee’s failure, lawmakers are now facing a year-end legislative challenge that could have an outsized impact on the economy. At issue: Whether to extend the payroll tax holiday, or let it expire. Employees normally pay 6.2% on the first $106,800 of their wages into Social Security, but this year they’ve only been paying 4.2%. That tax break, however, is set to expire January 1. Failing to extend it would amount to raising taxes during a rough economic patch — something that President Obama would like to avoid. A full 121 million families have benefited from the tax break, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The increase in take home pay was $934 for the average worker.

Obama, GOP Also Prepare to Battle over Bush Tax Cuts

With the debt supercommittee unable to reach agreement on cutting the federal debt, a more familiar issue will suddenly resurface: the George W. Bush tax cuts. Democrats say Republicans’ refusal to end the Bush tax rates for the nation’s wealthiest Americans is blocking an agreement to help cut the nation’s $15 trillion debt. Republicans say the Democrats refuse to end their support for higher taxes, which the GOP says will cost jobs. Obama has long advocated ending the Bush-era rates for individuals who make more than $200,000 a year and couples who make more than $250,000 annually. Rather than face expiration, and a resulting tax increase for all Americas, Obama and the GOP agreed to a two-year extension — to end right after the 2012 elections. Now they will become the center of election-year politics.

Obama & Congress Do Agree on Veterans

After years of arguing over spending and the federal debt, President Obama and Republican foes came together today on new plans to help veterans find jobs. As lawmakers from both parties watched, Obama signed a bill that provides tax credits to businesses that hire veterans; the new law also increases job training and counseling programs for veterans. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., praised the bipartisan nature of the bill, saying it “shows that by focusing on areas of agreement — rather than partisan stimulus bills — we can pass legislation to help foster job growth.”

  • This small area of compromise is being touted out of proportion with the deeper problems facing Congress

Illegal Immigrants Caused 30 Wildfires

People crossing the southeastern Arizona dessert caused at least 30 wildfires in a five year period, found the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress. The U.S. Government Accountability Office report was released by Arizona Senator John McCain’s office Tuesday, and came at the request of the senator and fellow Republican Senators. John Barrasso of Wyoming, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Jon Kyl of Arizona in July 2010. McCain said earlier this year that fires are sometimes caused by illegal border crossers. The statements quickly drew criticism from activists who jumped on him for “scapegoating.” “I hope this report is a lesson to the activists and public officials that would prefer to engage in partisan character attacks rather than focus the discussion on the vital need to secure our southern border,” McCain said Tuesday.

Occupy Protesters Decry Obama’s ‘Silence’ on Arrests

Followers of the Occupy Wall Street movement began yelling at the president today as he began his speech in Manchester, N.H. After the president’s speech, one of the hecklers handed Obama a note criticizing his “silence” over the arrest of “over 4,000 peaceful protestors” at Occupy Wall Street-type movements across the country. “Mr.. President: Over 4000 peaceful protesters have been arrested. While bankers continue to destroy the American economy. You must stop the assault on our 1st amendment rights. Your silence sends a message that police brutality is acceptable. Banks got bailed out. We got sold out.”

Terror Plot Shows Al-Awlaki’s Influence Lives On

The day before al-Qaeda’s chief propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen last month, New York police say terror suspect Jose Pimentel delivered to a confidential informant a flash drive loaded with six articles from Inspire, the terrorist group’s English-language magazine — including one titled “Making a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.” After al-Awlaki was killed on Sept. 30, Pimentel’s desire to carry out an attack on U.S. soil was accelerated and he told New York police investigators after his arrest — announced late Sunday — that he was about an hour away from building a bomb, according to the criminal complaint. Authorities had long been aware of Pimentel, according to the complaint. The Muslim convert operated a website that called on fellow Muslims to carry out attacks against the U.S. government, praised top al-Qaeda operatives who had been killed in U.S. operations and posted articles from Inspire magazine on his website.

In a disturbing side note, the Associated Press reports that the FBI twice rejected requests from New York Police Department investigators to join their undercover operation of a plot to bomb police stations and post offices. saying Pimentel was mentally unstable and not capable of carrying out terror attacks

Real ID Act Blocks Some Americans from Driver’s Licenses

Strict federal rules aimed at keeping terrorists off planes are blocking some Americans from renewing their driver’s licenses or getting other state-issued IDs. The consequences can be staggering. Without an ID, people cannot change jobs, drive legally, collect Social Security or Medicare, get through airport security or open a bank account. The Real ID Act, was passed by Congress in 2006 in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks when terrorists used easily obtained driver’s licenses to carry out their plans. The law says that by 2013, only IDs from states that require applicants to present proof of citizenship or legal residency will be accepted to board an airplane or enter a federal building. In most states that have begun to comply, that proof means a birth certificate or immigration papers. Many American citizens are finding that their records were lost or damaged in natural disasters, birth certificates were never issued or they were issued with errors, and some people were raised under a different name than what’s on the birth certificate. Proving a person’s identity without a valid birth certificate can mean digging up alternate documentation, such as school records, going to court for a name change and sometimes fingerprinting to avoid fraud.

Millennials Changing Meal Concepts

The USA Today reports that every company that makes or serves food in America has had to digest the same reality: We’ve become a nation of really weird eaters. We eat what we want, when we want. No more of this breakfast, lunch and dinner stuff. We snack all day. We casually skip meals. And we want to customize everything we cram into our mouths. It’s as if our social-media habits are going right to our stomachs. A culture hungry to put its personal stamp on everything it touches is driving some foodmakers and restaurant operators bonkers. Nowhere is this trend more palpable than with Millennials. The numbers are mind-boggling. At least 35% of the meals eaten by Millennials aren’t meals at all, but snacks. Only 5% of all consumers eat three square meals a day. Perhaps that’s why 20% of the cookies and apple pies sold by McDonald’s are at breakfast and why Dunkin’ Donuts sells gobs of Chicken Salad sandwiches at 9 a.m.

  • Not only is the economy tanking, but nutrition as well.

Economic News

Despite the stock market’s woes and a slow job recovery, companies’ profits are on a tear. Companies set another record for quarterly earnings in the third quarter, topping the previous record set in the second quarter. The third quarter marked the eighth-consecutive quarter of double-digit percentage earnings growth.

  • Productivity gains and higher prices have yielded record profits while jobs remain stagnant, further fueling the Occupy Wall Street protesters.

The U.S. economy grew more slowly over the summer than the government had earlier estimated because businesses cut back more sharply on restocking of shelves. The Commerce Department said Tuesday that the economy grew at an annual rate of 2% in the July-September quarter, lower than an initial 2.5% estimate made last month.

The government also said after-tax incomes fell by the largest amount in two years, reflecting high unemployment and lower pay raises. After-tax, inflation-adjusted incomes fell at a 2.1% rate. That’s the biggest drop since the third quarter of 2009, just as the recession was ending. It also marked the second straight quarterly decline.

The number of Americans who bought previously occupied homes rose slightly last month but remained at depressed levels. Home sales rose 1.4% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.97 million. That’s below the 6 million that economists say is consistent with a healthy housing market and slightly ahead of last year’s sales.

Between 2000 and 2010, America’s share “as a destination of the long-haul travel market” fell to 12% from 17%. That equals a loss of 467,000 jobs, $606 billion in spending, and $37 billion in tax revenue. The U.S. is missing out on hundreds of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs because we make it difficult for foreigners to visit. Post-9/11, the government requires an in-person interview with consular officers to obtain a visa. In some cases, applicants must wait 100 days for an interview.

Italy

Few Italians are willing to make personal sacrifices though they believe cutting the country’s public debt is a top priority, according to an AP-GfK poll. A full 93 percent of Italians said reducing the public debt was either an “extremely” or “very important” goal for the government to tackle. Yet, only about a quarter of Italians favor reforming labor laws to make it easier to fire workers, or raising the retirement age — considered critical to curb Italy’s public spending and boost economic growth.

  • While it is convenient to blame the government, corporations or Wall Street, it is ultimately the people who want whatever they can get from the government and are unwilling to sacrifice to ameliorate the resultant debt crisis.

South Korea

South Korea’s ruling party today rammed through parliament a long-stalled free trade deal with the United States in a chaotic parliamentary session that included an opposition lawmaker dousing his rivals with tear gas. The National Assembly passed the measure 151 to 7 in a surprise legislative session called by the ruling Grand National party. Shouts and screams filled the National Assembly as ruling party lawmakers forced their way onto the parliamentary floor. The pact is America’s biggest free-trade agreement since the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. Opposition lawmakers argued that the agreement favors U.S. over South Korean workers. The U.S. Congress passed the agreement during South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s trip to Washington last month.

Pakistan

A senior Pakistani Taliban commander says the movement has declared a cease-fire and halted attacks around the country in support of nascent peace talks with the government. The Pakistan Taliban are behind much of the violence in Pakistan. The group is believed to be divided, with some factions still committed to war with the state. There have been several insurgent attacks over the last month.

Iran

The Obama administration announced a new round of sanctions against Iran on Monday, just days after the United Nations nuclear watchdog released a report critical of Tehran. The new sanctions are intended to add pressure on Iran’s oil industry and designate Iran as a “primary money-laundering concern.” The sanctions were announced as Britain and Canada also announced their own set of stringent sanctions on Monday in response to the last week’s International Atomic Energy Agency report, which concluded that Tehran continues to work to develop nuclear weapons.

Egypt

Egyptian police clashed with anti-government protesters for a fifth day in central Cairo Wednesday as a rights group raised the overall death toll from the ongoing unrest to 38. The clashes came one day after tens of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square rejected a promise by Egypt’s military ruler to speed up a presidential election to the first half of next year. The Tahrir crowd, along with protesters in a string of other cities across the nation, want military ruler Hussein Tantawi to step down immediately in favor of an interim civilian council to run the nation’s affairs until elections for a new parliament and president are held. The military-led government began leading the country after protesters ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February.

The Egyptian military has been using a banned chemical agent to deal with hundreds of thousands of protesters, according to several news sources. The International Business Times reports that demonstrators have been struck with “dangerous levels of CR gas over the past two days of protests” and Australia’s The Age said Wednesday that the canisters are marked “Made in the USA.” CR gas is an intense and lethal version of CS gas, called “tear gas,” widely used by police for crowd control. Wikipedia notes that CR gas has effects that are “are approximately 6 to 10 times more powerful than those of CS gas.” More than 1,700 protesters have been affected during the past four days in clashes in and around Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Yemen

Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh arrived unexpectedly in the Saudi capital Riyadh early Wednesday for the signing of a Gulf-sponsored power transfer deal. Along with representatives who brokered the agreement, European and American envoys were expected to attend the signing. The deal aimed at ending months of political deadlock had been approved both by the opposition and by the president. The plan submitted by the six-nation GCC will effectively bring an end to Saleh’s 33-year rule. The plan offers Saleh and his relatives immunity from prosecution if he hands over power to his deputy, vice president Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.

Somalia

Four months after the U.N. declared famine in much of Somalia, some regions are beginning a slow recovery from a disaster that has killed tens of thousands of people. But many Somalis — women, mostly — living in a stick-hut camp in this border town say they won’t return home because they’re afraid of hard-line Islamist militants stalking the country. The U.N. last week reduced the number of famine zones in Somalia from six to three and said the number of people at risk of starvation has dropped from 750,000 to 250,000. Since the July 20 famine declaration, the U.N. has received $800 million in aid for Somalia, and the U.S. has provided $650 million to drought-stricken Horn of Africa nations, including Somalia. Still, the fate of 13 million people affected by East Africa’s worst drought in decades remains in doubt.

Weather

Thanksgiving Day looks balmy for much of the country, but travelers in some parts could face weather delays Wednesday as they’re heading out and over the weekend as they return home. Travel delays could hit New York’s JFK and LaGuardia airports, Newark Liberty and Philadelphia International as heavy rain, wind and low clouds are forecast. Coastal rain and mountain snow will continue over the Pacific Northwest.

Forecasters say Hurricane Kenneth has strengthened even more into a Category 4 storm in the eastern Pacific, although there is no current threat to land. It is the strongest late-season hurricane in that area on record. Kenneth has maximum sustained winds near 145 mph. The storm was centered about 750 miles south-southwest of the southern tip of Baja California, Mexico, but was moving away from the coast.

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