Category: Politics


Source: FoxNews

A year after President Obama pledged to end the practice of funding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with “emergency” spending bills, the Senate is taking up a $60 billion request that would do exactly that.

The spending bill, which includes $33 billion for the two wars in addition to disaster relief funds and aid for Haiti, is running headlong into concern from war-weary Democrats and deficit-conscious Republicans.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called the bill a “heavy lift” in her chamber. But the Senate, which is taking up the request first, could be the scene of a spending stand-off between Democrats and Republicans.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., plans to offer an amendment requiring Congress to offset the cost of the package with spending cuts elsewhere. He slammed the administration for continuing to use the “emergency” supplemental to fund the wars — by designating the spending bill as “emergency,” Congress avoids having to find a way to pay for it.

“The last day war funding was unforeseen was September 10, 2001,” the first-term senator said in a written statement. “This legislation is designed to bail out career politicians who want to avoid the hard work of prioritizing spending.”

The Bush administration routinely used supplemental spending bills to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama criticized the practice as a candidate and when he came into office pledged to keep war funding within the traditional budget request.

“For seven years, we have been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price,” he said in his February 2009 address to a joint session of Congress.

When Obama requested $83 billion in additional funding last spring for the wars, he said he would draw the line there.

“This is the last planned war supplemental,” he wrote in April 2009 to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, calling for “an honest, more accurate and fiscally responsible estimate of federal spending” after years of “budget gimmicks and wasteful spending.”

But while Congress provided $130 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan at the end of last year as part of the traditional budget process, Obama this year came back to Capitol Hill for the additional $33 billion — mostly to cover the cost of sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

“The irony certainly isn’t lost on us,” a Senate GOP aide told FoxNews.com. “Obviously they stuck with that pledge about as well as they stuck with most the other pledges they made.”

But the aide said pending the consideration of the Coburn amendment, “the process for the supplemental could move relatively expeditiously.”

The aide said House Democrats could pose a bigger hurdle. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said earlier this month that it would be easier to get the legislation passed in the House if it were approved by the Senate first since that would limit a back-and-forth debate.

The bill includes money for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, aid for Haiti earthquake relief and money for flood relief in Rhode Island and Tennessee.

The White House Office of Management and Budget defended the package in a statement Monday, calling the funding “essential” and urging Congress to act quickly to approve it.

“The administration looks forward to working with the Congress to further refine the bill as the legislative process moves forward and to meet these urgent and essential needs,” the statement said.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, also defended the package after his committee unanimously approved it earlier this month.

“This bill is neither a bailout nor a stimulus. Instead it is the minimum necessary to meet emergency requirements and the cost of war,” he said. “We recognize that many on both sides of the aisle believe we simply shouldn’t spend more, but I say to you the nation still has legitimate needs and a responsibility to act.”

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Source: UK Telegraph

The Tibetan spiritual leader said Marxism has “moral ethics, whereas capitalism is only how to make profits.”

However, he credited China’s embrace of market economics for breaking communism’s grip over the world’s most populous country and forcing the ruling Communist Party to “represent all sorts of classes.”

Capitalism “brought a lot of positive to China. Millions of people’s living standards improved,” he said.

The Dalai Lama, 74, giving a series of lectures at the Radio City Music Hall in central Manhattan until Sunday, struck a strikingly optimistic note in general, saying that he believed the world is becoming a kinder, more unified place.

Anti-war movements, huge international aid efforts after Haiti’s earthquake this year, and the election of Barack Obama as the first black president in a once deeply racist United States are “clear signs of human beings being more mature,” he said.

The Dalai Lama said he felt a “sense of the oneness of human beings,” jokingly adding: “If those thoughts are wrong, please let me know!”

Although China, which forced him to escape for his life in 1959, is loosening up, he had harsh words for a communist leadership that he said still seeks to rule by fear.

As Chinese become richer, “they want more freedoms, they want an independent judiciary, they want to have a free sort of press,” he said.

The Chinese government, he said, seeks harmony, “but harmony must come out of the heart, not out of fear. So far, methods to bring harmony mostly rely on use of force.”

Source: CBS NEWS

Paul Campos may be right to worry that Elena Kagan’s track record doesn’t suggest much about her judicial philosophy. And Senate inquisitors may unearth issues that some find will troubling during Kagan’s upcoming Supreme Court confirmation hearings. But we’re not even there yet and already the knives are coming out – but not from the right. It’s the left that’s going after the White House’s nominee.

Serving as a very capable kvetcher-in-chief, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, has assembled a bill of particulars that sum up the some of the doubts heard from the left about Kagan’s suitability to replace Justice John Paul Stevens. (Greenwald has a more in-depth critique of Kagan here.

I don’t have any personal passion for or against Kagan’s nomination, but frankly, some of the complaints are, at best, borderline.

Let’s focus on the most explosive and, I think, the most ludicrous: Her supposed “connection” to Goldman Sachs. Greenwald links to Digby, who links to USA Today -gotta love those links – which notes that Kagan received $10,000 in 2008 for serving as a member of the Research Advisory Council of the Goldman Sachs Global Markets Institute. Well, as the noted constitutional scholar and former New Jersey Nets forward Derrick Coleman was wont to exclaim on occasion, whoop-de-damn-do. Fact is that the “Digby” post offers nothing in the way of evidence that points to a nefarious connection. Read a little further, though, and you’ll find the author’s real point: “I think Supreme Court confirmation battles are ideologically instructive for the nation and are one of the few times when it’s possible for people to speak at length about their philosophical worldview. Liberals have to stop running from this. Allowing the other side to define us is killing us.”

There you have it. This is really about politics and dissatisfaction with the Obama administration. Some on the lib-left would like the White House to tack far harder in their direction and they are not pleased at his political instinct to move toward the middle. That’s an argument they can have, though now it looks as if Kagan will get caught in the cross-fire.

Back to Greenwald. He also cites Sam Stein of Huffington Post. But Stein similarly brings nothing of real linterest to the table. The two reports that the HuffPo includes of the advisory council from 2005 and 2008 don’t advance the conspiracy case one inch. The entire exercise is basically a setup for an anonymous quote from someone identified as “a prominent progressive.”

“I just don’t understand why the Administration would want to makes themselves and their nominee vulnerable to the opposition at a time when American skepticism of Wall Street is at an all time high…this is like handing the Republicans the mantle of populism just for trying to oppose Kagen’s (sic) confirmation.”

Is it really?

Like Greenwald, Stein’s post makes much of the USA Today piece. But that article similarly fails to clinch the argument that Kagan crossed an ethical line. In this instance, though, the author did manage to get someone on the record-judicial nominations specialist Lee Epstein of Northwestern University Lee Epstein-opining that the Goldman Sachs word may “make things more complicated for her.”

And so it may. Goldman Sachs is radioactive for obvious reasons these days. But Kagan’s limited gig as an advisor to the now-tarnished investment house had nothing to do with creating phony CDOs or engaging in market manipulation. It was a freelance gig to supplement her day job. If anybody’s got evidence to suggest otherwise, they ought to get it into the public record.

Source: Yahoo.com

Federal authorities raided a government-funded health clinic Wednesday run by New York’s state Senate majority leader a day after he was accused of siphoning $14 million from the nonprofit operation.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo confirmed that his office is assisting Brooklyn federal prosecutors in a corruption probe of state Sen. Pedro Espada Jr., with potential charges that could include mail fraud, wire fraud, theft of government funds and conspiracy.

In a civil lawsuit Tuesday, Cuomo accused Espada and relatives and friends on the clinic’s board of looting clinic funds for lavish restaurant meals, trips to Las Vegas and Espada’s campaign. Cuomo said Wednesday it was clear Espada had broken the law.

But Espada called the federal raids “an invasion” and denied any wrongdoing. He accused Cuomo of staging a politically motivated vendetta against him.

Espada was a leader of a Republican-backed coup last summer that he claims is motivating Cuomo’s lawsuit. Espada later rejoined the Democrats and received the majority leader title.

About a dozen FBI and IRS agents and investigators from Cuomo’s office spent eight hours Wednesday at the Soundview Healthcare Network in the Bronx, where a canopy above the front door lists Espada as its president and CEO.

Agents used bolt cutters to open an 8-foot-tall, 25-foot-long storage container behind the building and removed Espada campaign posters and other items. More than 30 boxes of files and materials were carted away in a van. Agents wearing blue or green gloves leafed through the contents, taking notes.

One box was marked, “Payroll 205.” Another said “Timesheets 205-206.”

In a late afternoon news conference, Espada said he would fight the “false and unfounded allegations made by the attorney general.” He called the raids “a media circus, a media show.”

“The attorney general wants to create this impression of wrongdoing when there is no wrongdoing,” he said.

Espada brushed aside several specific questions about the charges.

Cuomo’s civil action accuses Espada of diverting the clinic’s funding charitable assets to himself, relatives, friends and his political operation.

FBI spokesman James Margolin would not comment on what was seized from the clinic. A search warrant affidavit was sealed. The IRS declined to comment Wednesday.

In the civil suit, Cuomo also accused Espada of getting Soundview’s board, which he controls, to give him a guaranteed $9 million severance package that, if ever paid out, would bankrupt the clinic.

In 2004, then-Attorney General Spitzer charged two of Soundview’s vice presidents, Espada’s executive assistant and a clinic director with grand larceny and scheming to defraud. Two of them were accused of filing false reports, a concern Cuomo raised in his civil lawsuit on Tuesday.

Espada was not charged, but he and his campaign were later fined $61,000 by the city for campaign-finance violations involving Soundview employees who had been reimbursed for their contributions.

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Source: UK Telegraph

Here is a warning to us all. The Argentine state is taking control of the country’s privately-managed pension funds in a drastic move to raise cash.

It is a foretaste of what may happen across the world as governments discover that tax revenue, and discover that the bond markets are unwilling to plug the gap. The G7 states are already acquiring an unhealthy taste for the arbitrary seizure of private property, I notice.

Here is a link from La Nacion and another from El Pais for Spanish speakers:

So, over $29bn of Argentine civic savings are to be used as a funding kitty for the populist antics of President Cristina Kirchner. This has been dressed up as an anti-corruption and efficiency move. Aren’t they always?

Argentine sovereign debt was trading at 29 cents on the dollar today, pushing the yield to 25pc. Tempted?

Credit Default Swaps on Argentine bonds reached 2,900. Do we have a Latin Iceland on our hands, but with 100 times the population? Or several, Pakistan, Ukraine, Hungary? …… Switzerland? Australia? Britain?

The funds being targeted are known as AFJPs or retirement accounts, but how long will it now be before Mrs Kirchner cracks down on the entire $97bn pool of private pensions? There are a lot of much-needed hard currency assets in those portfolios.

“A state takeover of pensions creates all kinds of doubts and throws into relief the extreme financing needs of the government next year,” said Jorge Alberti, from ElAccionista.com

Needless to say, the Kirchner government (part II) is unable to raise any money on the global markets at a tolerable price.

Investors have already been burned by her stealth default on Argentina’s index linked bonds. This was achieved by sacking the head of the statistics office and rigging the inflation data (by 20pc annually, or so.)

Frankly, I am a little surprised that Argentina’s 2001 default – the biggest in history – was not a severe enough burning in itself for investors. But political risk seems to be a blind spot for some asset managers. And then there was the great agro-boom of 2005-2007 so all was forgiven, until commodities went into free-fall in May.

President Kirchner has been eyeing the pension pool for some time. Last year she pushed through new rules forcing them to invest more money inside the country – always a warning signal.

My fear is that governments in the US, Britain, and Europe will display similar reflexes. Indeed, they have already done so. The forced-feeding of banks with fresh capital – whether they want it or not – and the seizure of the Fannie/Freddie mortgage giants before they were in fact in trouble (in order to prevent a Chinese buying strike of US bonds and prevent a spike in US mortgage rates), shows that private property can be co-opted – or eliminated – with little due process if that is required to serve the collective welfare. This is a slippery slope. I hope Paulson, Darling, and Lagarde tread with great care. I do not expect Steinbruck to tread with any care.

The Merval index of stocks in Buenos Aires is down 12.6pc as I write. Telecom Argentina took it badly (-25pc), so did Grupo Financiero Galicia (-13pc) and Banco Frances (-20pc).

Foreign sellers?

Source: AP

MOSCOW — Polish President Lech Kaczynski and some of the country’s highest military and civilian leaders died on Saturday when the presidential plane crashed as it came in for a landing in thick fog in western Russia, killing 97, officials said.

Russian and Polish officials said there were no survivors on the 26-year-old Tupolev, which was taking the president, his wife and staff to events marking the 70th anniversary of the massacre in Katyn forest of thousands of Polish officers by Soviet secret police.

The crash devastated the upper echelons of Poland’s political and military establishments. On board were the army chief of staff, national bank president, deputy foreign minister, army chaplain, head of the National Security Office, deputy parliament speaker, civil rights commissioner and at least two presidential aides and three lawmakers, the Polish foreign ministry said.

Although initial signs pointed to an accident with no indication of foul play, the death of a Polish president and much of the Polish state and defense establishment in Russia en route to commemorating one of the saddest events in Poland’s long, complicated history with Russia, was laden with tragic irony.

Reflecting the grave sensibilities of the crash to relations between the two countries, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin personally assumed charge of the investigation. He was due in Smolensk later Saturday, where he would meet Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who was flying in from Warsaw.

“This is unbelievable — this tragic, cursed Katyn,” Kaczynski’s predecessor, Aleksander Kwasniewski, said on TVN24 television.

It is “a cursed place, horrible symbolism,” he said. “It’s hard to believe. You get chills down your spine.”

Andrei Yevseyenkov, spokesman for the Smolensk regional government, said Russian dispatchers asked the crew to divert from the military airport in North Smolensk and land instead in Minsk, the capital of neighboring Belarus, or in Moscow because of the fog.

While traffic controllers generally have the final word in whether it is safe for a plane to land, they can and do leave it to the pilots’ discretion.

Air Force Gen. Alexander Alyoshin confirmed that the pilot disregarded instructions to fly to another airfield.

“But they continued landing, and it ended, unfortunately, with a tragedy,” the Interfax news agency quoted Alyoshin as saying. He added that the pilot makes the final decision about whether to land.

Russia’s Emergency Minister Sergei Shoigu said there were 97 dead. His ministry said 88 of whom were part of the Polish state delegation. Poland’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Piotr Paszkowski, said there were 89 people on the passenger list but one person had not shown up for the roughly 1 1/2-hour flight from Warsaw’s main airport.

Some of the people on board were relatives of those slain in the Katyn massacre. Also among the victims was Anna Walentynowicz, whose firing in August 1980 from the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk sparked a workers’ strike that spurred the eventual creation of the Solidarity freedom movement. She went on to be a prominent member.

“This is a great tragedy, a great shock to us all,” former president and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa said.

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