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Archive for September, 2013

Albert R. Hunt: Shutdown or No Shutdown, Ted Cruz Wins.


Whether or not the government shuts down tonight, there will be one big political winner: Ted Cruz.

The freshman Texas senator has become the face and voice of the Republicans in their showdown with Democrats and the White House over funding the government.

In recent memory, no newcomer to the Senate with less than 10 months in office has exercised as much influence.

Cruz, vilified by establishment Republicans, many pundits and the inside-the-Beltway cognoscenti, is the darling of his party’s right-wing base after his 21-hour faux filibuster last week in which he asked for curbs to President Barack Obama’s health-care law as the price of keeping the government open.

The effort was futile in legislative terms and could potentially do long-term damage to the Republican brand. But the pressure applied by Cruz emboldened House Republicans to stay the course and force a standoff. He encouraged rank-and-file right-wing U.S. representatives to keep the pressure on House Speaker John Boehner.

Yesterday, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, called Cruz the de facto Republican leader of the House. Others say he has the same role in the Senate.

There seems to be an inverse relationship between disapproval in Washington and adulation among grass-root conservatives. Cruz is the darling of much of right-wing talk radio, Republican primary contestants are lining up to identify with him and phone calls from constituents to Republican lawmakers tilt in his favor.

The 42-year-old may have put himself in a win-win situation: If Democrats cave and concede anything on Obamacare, Cruz will be hailed by party activists as the man who made it happen. If Republicans ultimately capitulate, the take-no- prisoners Texan can be expected to lead a chorus of criticism of his own party.

© Copyright 2013 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

Source: NEWSmax.com

WSJ: Obama Wants Government Shutdown to Salvage Legacy.


Image: WSJ: Obama Wants Government Shutdown to Salvage Legacy

By Melanie Batley

President Barack Obama’s unwillingness to negotiate with Congress on the budget or the debt limit is proof he wants a government shutdown despite his rhetoric, according to a Wall Street Journal editorial.

The paper suggests that the president’s refusal to compromise on those key issues is a calculated political maneuver to achieve a shutdown that will be blamed on Republicans, thereby restoring a Democrat-controlled House to rescue the final two years of his domestic agenda.

“Mr. Obama’s refusal to negotiate suggests that he wants a shutdown — either over the budget or debt limit. His agenda is dying on Capitol Hill, because of Senate Democrats as well as House Republicans,” the paper argues.

“With his approval rating down and independents leaning toward the GOP, he figures his only chance to salvage a second-term domestic legacy is to restore Nancy Pelosi as Speaker in his final two years,” the Journal contends.

“His best opening to make that happen is a shutdown or debt-limit crisis that he will try to blame on Republicans.”

The Journal says that while both parties are responsible for creating the imminent shutdown, Obama is also to blame for refusing to make changes to any element of Obamacare unless it is he who makes a decision to defer certain parts of the law to prevent the program’s failure.

The paper cites the president’s “unilateral decision” to delay by one year the business mandate to provide insurance for employees, and another decision to delay the requirement to verify the income of Americans seeking subsidies.

“He’d rather see the government shut down than accept the Obamacare compromises that House Republicans have put in their latest government funding bill. He refuses to delay the law for a year though his own actions reveal it is not ready for prime time,” the Journal says.

“A shutdown,” the newspaper said, “is as much his strategy as it is [GOP Sen. Ted] Cruz’s.”

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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Leaks About Embassy Plot More Damaging Than Snowden.


Image: Leaks About Embassy Plot More Damaging Than Snowden

A Bahraini armored personnel vehicle reinforces U.S. Embassy security just outside a gate to the embassy building in Manama on Aug. 4.

By Audrey Hudson

Leaked details of an al-Qaida plot against U.S. embassies in August caused more damage to government counterterrorism efforts than all of the documents leaked by Edward Snowden, intelligence officials claim.

Now the nation’s spy agencies are scrambling to find new ways to spy on senior members of the international terror group, The New York Times reported.

Al-Qaida’s top leaders have changed their methods of communication since McClatchy reported that conversations about the planned attack had been intercepted and named the terrorist leaders under surveillance, the Times said.

“It was something that was immediate, direct, and involved specific people on specific communications about specific events,” a senior American official said of the exchange between the Qaida leaders.

By comparison, the information leaked by Snowden, a former National Security Advisor employee, was more in-depth “and it will take a lot of time to understand,” the official said.

Nearly 20 U.S. embassies and consulates were closed for a week based on the information and perceived threat, which initially was reported by the Times, CNN, and McClatchy.

McClatchy, however, was the only news outlet to disclose that the intercepted conversations were between Ayman al-Zawahri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden as the head of Al Qaida, and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, head of the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

The Times said it withheld
 that crucial piece of information at the government’s request.

McClatchy Washington bureau chief James Asher defended the decision to publish the identify of the terrorist plotters and said it was based on reports from Yemen where the details were “common knowledge.”

“Our story was based on reporting in Yemen and we did not contact the administration to ask permission to use the information,” Asher told The Huffington Post. 

“It is not unusual for CNN or the NYT to agree not to publish something because the White House asked them. And frankly, our democracy isn’t well served when journalists agree to censor their work,” Asher added.

Unidentified intelligence officials now tell the New York Times the leak resulted in a sharp decrease in intelligence gathering, as well as in the quality of the communications.

The National Security Agency has spent billions of dollars over the last decade on clandestine eavesdropping operations.


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© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

 

Hagel at DMZ: NKorea Watching Syria Developments.


Image: Hagel at DMZ: NKorea Watching Syria Developments

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel listens to U.S. Army Col. James Minnich as a North Korean soldier takes a photograph through a window at a UN truce village building that sits on the border of the DMZ in Panmunjom on Sept. 30.

Standing just steps from the heavily armed border with North Korea, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Monday that Pyongyang is closely watching the international response to Syria‘s use of chemical weapons against its own people.

And, with North Korean soldiers eyeing his every move, Hagel told reporters traveling with him that the U.S. has no plans to reduce its military presence in South Korea, despite the ongoing budget crisis.

Hagel’s visit is timed to the 60th anniversary of the signing of the mutual defense treaty between the U.S. and South Korea, and to reinforce America’s commitment to the security of the peninsula and the Asia-Pacific region.

“There is no margin for error up here,” Hagel said after a stop in one of the three small blue conference houses that sit on the border of North and South Korea. “This is probably the only place in the world that we have always a risk of confrontation. Where the two sides are looking clearly and directly at each other all the time.”

Inside the house, Hagel stepped briefly onto the North Korean side. And when he moved back outside to speak to a crowd of reporters, North Korean soldiers stepped up to the border just alongside the building and watched from about 40 feet away.

Hagel said it’s been pretty clear that North Korea, which also has a large stockpile of chemical weapons, has been monitoring the unfolding international effort to destroy Syria’s chemical arsenal. And while he’s not sure what message the North may take from the latest Syrian developments, U.S. officials suggest that the unanimous U.N. resolution could send a warning shot to Pyongyang.

China, which has been North Korea’s only major ally, and Russia both backed the U.N. resolution on Syria. And China has struck a more critical tone regarding North Korea in the past year, cooperating with the U.S. on tightening U.N. sanctions following Pyongyang’s underground nuclear test in February.

Other experts, however, caution that America’s failure to follow through on its threats earlier this year to launch airstrikes into Syria to stop further use of chemical weapons there, could be interpreted by the North as a sign of weakness.

“If we had used force, I would guess that from North Korea’s point of view that would be seen as potentially more threatening, because it would demonstrate a real willingness for the US to use force,” said Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. There is the potential, she said, for other nations to conclude that, at the end of the day, “the United States is just not as strong as it used to be.”

Just 10 miles south of the North and South Korean border, however, U.S. and Korean troops went through a training exercise Monday as Hagel watched, all aimed at showing that the military is ready to respond if needed.

At the Rodriguez Live Fire Complex, U.S. soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Division demonstrated an offensive maneuver with Apache helicopters, tanks and armored vehicles, filling the training ground with a haze of smoke and blasts from mortar fire. The exercise was part of the military certification for one of the U.S. platoons serving in South Korea.

From there, Hagel went to Observation Post Ouellette, one of 77 guard posts that line the South Korean side of the border. He then stopped further down the road at Freedom House, where the blue conference buildings stand largely unused these days as a chill has once again settled over North and South Korean communications.

Since March, the North Koreas have refused to answer the routine phone calls from the South’s side of the border. On Monday, however, Hagel and his staff attracted a bit of attention from the North as the group toured the South’s border facilities.

In addition to the ever-present North Korean guards standing both at the border and a bit further up the hill at their larger outpost, a small group of tourists also stopped to stare down at the group of Americans. According to officials, the tours come through as many as seven to 10 times a day.

Hagel is expected to meet with South Korean officials over the next several days, including events and a parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the alliance as well as Armed Forces Day.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Source: NEWSmax.com

Popes John Paul II, John XXIII Canonized April 27.


Popes John Paul II and John XXIII will be declared saints on April 27, 2014.

Pope Francis announced the date Monday during a meeting with cardinals inside the Apostolic PalaceA Newsmax exclusive revealed the correct date in early September.

Doctor Reveals Healing Powers of Prayer 

The date was set in April in part to help Catholics on pilgrimage, Newsmax Vatican correspondent Edward Pentin revealed.

Pope Francis “realized that in winter, it would be difficult for pilgrims from Poland and countries of Central and Northern Europe to attend, and so it was better to postpone until the spring,” Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi told Newsmax.

Francis had announced in July he would canonize two of the 20th century’s most influential popes together, approving a miracle attributed to John Paul’s intercession and bending Vatican rules by deciding that John XXIII didn’t need one.

Analysts have said the decision to canonize them together was aimed at unifying the church since each has his own admirers and critics. Francis is clearly a fan of both: On the anniversary of John Paul’s death this year, Francis prayed at the tombs of both men — an indication that he sees a great personal and spiritual continuity in them.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: Newsmax.com

Obama’s ‘Slippery’ Claims on Obamacare, Budget.


Image: Obama's 'Slippery' Claims on Obamacare, Budget

President Barack Obama is the insurance industry‘s most powerful pitchman these days as he drums up interest in the health insurance markets opening for business Tuesday. Whatever the merits of his product, there are reasons for the buyer to beware of his rhetoric.

The president is being a bit slippery on the costs of coverage, in particular.

His opponents are taking their own liberties as they talk up the ills of what they deride as “Obamacare” and defend their approach to the budget impasse that threatens to close parts of the government come Tuesday.

On these points, caveat emptor:

OBAMA: “Knowing you can offer your family the security of health care, that’s priceless. Now, you can do it for the cost of your cable bill, probably less than your cellphone bill. Think about that, good health insurance for the price of your cellphone bill or less.” — Speech in Largo, Md., on Thursday.

THE FACTS: The family coverage you can get for the cost of a monthly cable or cellphone bill is going to expose you to a hefty share of your medical expenses. Looked at in terms of digital communications, it’s more like dial-up Internet than 4G.

The cell-phone analogy has become the talking point of the week for administration officials pitching people on the health care markets opening for business Tuesday. Obama said earlier that of every 10 Americans who are uninsured, “six out of those 10 are going to be able to get covered for less than $100 a month, less than your cellphone bills.”

He is referring to the cheapest of four major options offered by the new markets, the “bronze” plan. But, just like with auto insurance, premiums aren’t the only potential expense for a consumer. Those who choose bronze will have to pay 40 percent of their medical bills out of pocket through deductibles and copayments. A family’s share of medical costs could go as high as $12,700 a year, or $6,350 for individuals, on top of those cell-phone-like premiums.

Plans that cost more in premiums have the same caps on annual out-of-pocket expenses, but they cover more of the bills along the way. The platinum plan, which is the best, pays 90 percent of medical bills, for example.

___

OBAMA: “Premiums are going to be different in different parts of the country depending on how much coverage you buy, but 95 percent of uninsured Americans will see their premiums cost less than was expected.” — Largo, Md., speech.

THE FACTS: Less than who expected? Obama is referring to an administration analysis that finds premiums are coming in 16 percent lower than had been estimated by experts at the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Independent analysts find similar results. But it’s a stretch to suggest that numbers crunched by CBO’s experts would reflect the expectations of regular consumers.

The new insurance markets are for people who don’t have access to coverage on the job. Many will have been uninsured, and they may be surprised when confronted with potentially significant out-of-pocket costs in addition to their monthly premiums. People in the other big group of customers now buy their own individual policies. Current individual coverage is notoriously skimpy, and “Obamacare” plans will provide broader medical benefits and more robust financial protections if you get sick. Although many consumers will qualify for tax credits to offset their premiums, they are likely to pay more than now because they’re getting a better product.

___

REP. KEVIN McCARTHY, R-Calif.: “When we started this health care debate, the president led with a very big promise to the American people: If you like the health care that you have, that you currently have, you can keep it.” — At a Sept. 20 House Republican rally after passage of the bill that would finance the government on condition the health care law is starved of money.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: “The big employers are already in the market. Their plans won’t change, and actually that’s one thing that we need to remind everybody. If you have insurance with your employer that you like, if it works for you, if your employer is a state or city government, a large employer, if you’re in Medicare, if you have veteran’s benefits, your patient protections are already in place. Nothing changes in this new market.” — CNN, Thursday.

THE FACTS: McCarthy is correct, Obama said exactly that. It was an empty promise, made repeatedly. Sebelius picks her words more carefully but still offers misleading assurances.

Nothing in the health care law guarantees that people can keep the health insurance they already have. Costs can rise, benefits can change and employers can drop coverage.

Insurance policies that are offered must now meet minimum standards, covering more preventive services, for example, and larger employers that don’t offer insurance to workers will face penalties when that provision of the law, delayed by Obama, comes into effect. But that doesn’t mean the status quo goes on for those who like what they’ve got now.

Some larger companies are already curtailing their coverage to avoid taxes that start in 2018 on high-value plans, those worth $10,200 or more for individual coverage and $27,500 for family policies. The AFL-CIO, whose member unions had supported the law, now says it is being implemented in a way that is “highly disruptive” to some union health plans, driving up costs for these plans to a point that workers and companies must abandon them.

Continuing a long-term trend, many companies are shifting more costs to employees through higher premiums, deductibles and copayments.

Sebelius is on firm ground in stating that “your patient protections are already in place” because the law contains a range of new protections against lifetime caps on benefits, overly discriminatory pricing and more. But “nothing changes” for those with good insurance? Not so. The landscape is already shifting.

___

OBAMA: “Our deficits are now coming down so quickly that by the end of this year, we will have cut them in more than half since I took office.” — Sept. 20 speech at Ford plant near Kansas City, Mo.

THE FACTS: Yes, but.

When Obama took office in January 2009, the deficit he inherited was $1.4 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated it will be $642 billion for the budget year ending Monday, down by roughly half since Obama became president.

An estimated $78 billion of that deficit reduction comes from automatic across-the-board spending cuts, called sequestration, that began taking effect in March — over Obama’s protests. As well, tax increases early this year have brought in more revenue. The economic recovery also has resulted in higher tax payments.

Deficits, though, don’t tell much about the country’s total indebtedness because they only represent a one-year comparison of revenues and spending.

While annual deficits are declining, the national debt — the accumulation of deficits going back to the days of George Washington — is still rising. It stood at $10.6 trillion the day Obama took office. It’s now $16.7 trillion, according to the Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Public Debt.

Thus, the national debt has increased by $6.1 trillion under Obama — the largest increase to date under any president, and a reflection in part of the deep recession early in his first term. The next highest was the $4.9 trillion added to the debt during the eight-year presidency of George W. Bush. Despite shrinking deficits, the debt is still rising because the U.S. government still must borrow 19 cents of every dollar it spends.

___

OBAMA: “Raising the debt ceiling is not the same as approving more spending, any more than making your monthly payments adds to the total cost of your truck. You don’t say, ‘Well, I’m not gonna — I’m not gonna pay my bill, my note for my truck because I’m gonna save money.’ No, you’re not saving money. You already bought the truck, right? … So raising the debt ceiling, it doesn’t cost a dime. It does not add a penny to our deficits. ” — Speech at Ford plant.

THE FACTS: Raising the debt ceiling is not the same as a consumer merely making monthly payments on existing debt. It’s very much like a consumer getting approved for a higher cap on a credit card. It doesn’t mean the consumer will necessarily spend more, but it makes higher spending possible.

In the government’s case, it has to have a higher credit limit so it can keep borrowing to make necessary payments. Borrowing to pay interest on existing debt as well as the bills is a recipe for deep trouble for consumers. But governments don’t — and really, can’t — handle their budgets as typical households do, despite the kitchen-table analogies that politicians in both parties love to make.

___

SEN. TED CRUZ, R-Texas: “Today, the House of Representatives did what Washington pundits only a few weeks ago said was impossible: A strong bipartisan majority voted to defund Obamacare.” — Statement after the Sept. 20 House vote.

McCARTHY: “That’s why today when we acted, it wasn’t just a group of Republicans, but it was a bipartisan vote. Let me state that again because I want to make sure you write it correctly. (Laughter in the room). It was a bipartisan vote because we’re Americans.” — At the post-vote House GOP rally Sept. 20.

THE FACTS: Still chuckling.

Bipartisan might be in the eye of the beholder but the vote passing the resolution was far from it.

Only two Democrats voted with the Republican majority, Reps. Mike McIntyre of North Carolina and Jim Matheson of Utah. Only one Republican voted with the Democrats, Virginia Rep. Scott Rigell. The 230-189 vote illustrated bitter partisan divisions, not a harmonious we’re-all-Americans moment.

A strong bipartisan vote to do away with the health care law remains impossible.

___

HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER ERIC CANTOR, R-Va.: “We’re seeing our economy turn from a full-time job economy into a part-time job economy.” — Cantor blamed this on “Obamacare” in the House GOP rally after the budget vote.

SEBELIUS: “Actually that just isn’t true. What we see is an increase in full-time jobs. There’s a decrease in the number of Americans working part-time hours.” — On CNN, Thursday.

THE FACTS: Cantor’s statement reflects fears of what might happen over time. Sebelius’ statement rests on statistics, though selective ones.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the number of people working part-time involuntarily — because of slack work or business conditions or because they can’t find full-time jobs — was 7.9 million in August. That’s down by a hair from a year earlier, when it was 8 million. In that time, the average weekly hours worked also went up marginally. And unemployment overall dropped to 7.3 percent from 8.1 percent. These figures support Sebelius.

Yet involuntary part-time work is up a whopping 75.6 percent since August 2007, when the economy was about to go into deep recession. That supports Cantor’s point about change in the job market. Some recent surveys have found a growing number of businesses that are cutting hours for part-time workers to keep them below the 30-hour threshold that places health-insurance obligations on them.

Much of the surge in part-time work, though, came before enactment of the health care law in 2010 or during its earliest stages. The effects of its obligations on employers have yet to take root. For now, the case that “Obamacare” will turn the workforce into a part-time one is anecdotal at best. Also plausible — and speculative — is the possibility that the law will work as its advocates intend and spur jobs by lightening the health insurance burden.
© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Source: Newsmax.com

Bill O’Reilly: ‘Killing Jesus’ Best Available Evidence on Crucifixion.


Bill O’Reilly didn’t become the most popular personality in cable television news by being noncontroversial. And he told CBS’s “60 Minutes” on Sunday that he wasn’t afraid to spark controversy in his new historical thriller, “Killing Jesus.”

Though he used the New Testament‘s four Gospels as source material, he left out parts he doesn’t believe happened as written.

For instance, Jesus didn’t say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” from the cross, the Catholic O’Reilly maintains. It wouldn’t have been physically possible, he said.

“You die on a cross from being suffocated,” he said. “You can hardly breathe. We believe Jesus said that, but we don’t believe he said it on the cross because nobody could have heard it.”

Story continues below.

People have a right to take the Bible literally, he said, but in the case of “Killing Jesus,” he was trying to be historically accurate. He never says in the book that Jesus was the Son of God because his book is not intended to be religious.

“So is this the Gospel according to Bill?” asked “60 Minutes” correspondent Norah O’Donnell.

“This is best available evidence according to Bill,” O’Reilly responded.

The most important thing he learned while writing the book was that Jesus of Nazareth became the most famous human being who ever lived, yet he had no infrastructure. He had no government, no public relations expert, no money and no structure, O’Reilly said.

“It’s never been done.”

“Killing Jesus,” follows two other best-sellers by the former high school history teacher, “Killing Lincoln” and “Killing Kennedy,” about two U.S. presidents assassinated a century apart. He writes the books with a co-author who does extensive historical research. O’Reilly uses the material to rewrite a fast-moving, compelling story.

He admits the titles are sensational, but explains that’s the only way to be heard in the marketplace.

“I just want to write about important things in a very entertaining way,” he said. “That’s the formula.”

While the book isn’t religious, O’Reilly is. He says he was inspired to write “Killing Jesus” by the Holy Spirit. He says he just woke up in the middle of the night and thought, “Killing Jesus.”

Asked by O’Donnell why the Holy Spirit would mark him as “the chosen one,” O’Reilly denied any such title. Instead, he said, he is “just one of many who have been given the gift. I can write and I can bloviate on TV.”

O’Reilly now makes more than $20 million a year through Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor,” a syndicated column and a live tour he does with comedian Dennis Miller. Two of O’Reilly’s third-grade classmates told O’Donnell he used to get the whole class in trouble by arguing with the nun who taught the class.

“Ain’t America great?” O’Reilly responded. “I was a little thug, and now I’m getting paid millions of dollars for being a big thug.”

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© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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