Despite an evasive White House and strong Democratic opposition, Republicans on a House Energy and Commerce Committee panel issued subpoenas Thursday for internal White House communications related to a half-billion dollar taxpayer loan guarantee for the failed solar company Solyndra.
According to The Washington Post, the move came after White House officials attempted to avoid subpoenas by voluntarily offering several boxes of emails and other documents related to Solyndra earlier this week.
Many Republicans, skeptical that President Barack Obama may have issued loans to the company to benefit political supporters, say the subpoena is necessary because the long-running investigation has yielded little information as to why the company was provided the loans despite poor performance.
Democrats complained that the broad language of the subpoena might allow Republicans access to the contents of messages from the President’s personal BlackBerry, according to the article.
Department of Energy officials denied any political motive, saying the loan was approved on its merits and that it made sense at the time it was made.
“We’d like to see as much passion in House Republicans for creating jobs as we see in this investigation. The White House has been clear with the committee that we are willing to cooperate with legitimate oversight requests that are tailored to balance the important institutional interests of both branches. We are disappointed that the committee has refused to discuss their requests with us in good faith, and has instead chosen a partisan route, proceeding with subpoenas that are unprecedented and unwarranted,” said a White House spokesman.
Last December, Representative Randy Forbes (R-Va.) sent a letter to President Barack Obama correcting the President’s assertion that “E pluribus unum” — the Latin phrase meaning “from many, one” — was the national motto of the United States in a speech at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta, Indonesia.
A portion of the letter reads:
“E pluribus unum is not our national motto. In 1956, Congress passed and President Eisenhower approved the law establishing ‘In God We Trust’ as the official national motto of the United States. This motto is also referenced in our national anthem and is engraved on our currency.”
The conflict encouraged Forbes to introduce a House bill that would reaffirm that “In God We Trust” is, indeed, the national motto. On Tuesday, the bill was approved 396-9, with two abstentions, according to The Associated Press.
Representative Jerold Nadler (D-N.Y.) called the bill a “distraction from the nation’s real problems,” but Forbes said the reaffirmation is a fight against a “growing and disturbing pattern of inaccuracy and omissions regarding the motto” and a protection to the country’s history. He said that the Capitol Visitor Center opened in 2008 was “sanitized of any reference to our nation’s motto” in a government effort to remove any mention of God from public domain.
According to The Hill, Obama ripped lawmakers later in the day for their decision to vote on the measure.
“That’s not putting people back to work,” Obama said during a speech about infrastructure. “I trust in God, but God wants to see us help ourselves by putting people to work.”
Twelve nurses represented by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) have sued a hospital operated by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) for requiring them to participate in abortions.
“Pro-life nurses shouldn’t be forced to assist in abortions against their beliefs,” said ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “No less than 12 nurses have encountered threats to their jobs at this hospital ever since a policy change required them to participate in the abortions regardless of their religious objections. That is flatly illegal.”
Laws exist at both the Federal and State levels that give medical professionals the right to opt out of participation in abortions. The Federal law prohibits medical facilities that receive Federal funding from requiring employees to participate in the procedures—UMDNJ receives about $60 million in said funding each year, money the nurses are asking the court to revoke.
A September policy change at the hospital that requires same-day surgery nurses to participate in surgical abortions has resulted in threats to the jobs of nurses who have protested on grounds of religious belief. Hospital officials reportedly say UMDNJ has “no regard for religious beliefs.” In October, the hospital began training sessions that actually require assistance in surgical abortion for its nursing staff.
ADF attorneys are asking the court to issue an order that stops abortion training sessions while the lawsuit moves forward. If the order is not granted, the nurses will continue to be scheduled one by one to undergo the training and then to assist abortions on a regular basis.
ADF is involved in a similar lawsuit in New York against the Mount Sinai Medical Center, where a Catholic nurse protested required involvement in abortion procedures last year.
A growing trend in New York City has some parents outsourcing the task of teaching their children social skills.
According to The Wall Street Journal, companies like SocialSklz:-) — a company founded in 2009 to address deteriorating social skills in the age of iPhones, Twitter and Facebook friends — are being used to teach children how to communicate in ways that are not tech-oriented.
Among the skills that children may be taught by the firms are such basics as speaking naturally to other human beings, making phone calls to arrange dates and shaking hands. Another company called Little Givers, the article says, teaches children not only how to share but the principles of philanthropy.
According to the article, the necessity of teaching children how to be social in the real world and not just the tech world is in the numbers. A poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation last year found that children ages 8 to 18 devoted an average of seven hours and 38 minutes to entertainment media each day, and 66 percent owned cellphones that they seldom used to make actual calls but instead for gaming and social networking.
A French satirical publication called Charlie Hebdo was attacked by extremists with a firebomb pre-dawn Wednesday after publishing a cartoon depicting Muhammad saying “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter.”
The attackers also hacked the publication’s website to post images of a mosque and the message “no god but Allah,” according to Reuters.
The publication which has published unholy illustrations of the Pope, Jesus Christ and various world religious and political figures has come under attack in the past. In 2006, the magazine published Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad with a bomb in his turban and one of him standing on a cloud, turning suicide bombers away from paradise saying, “Stop, stop, we ran out of virgins.” Islamic groups sued the publication in French court then, but lost.
The French Muslim Council (CFCM) condemned the Wednesday attack, but said the paper needs to cool its tone toward Muslims.
“The CFCM deplores the deeply mocking tone of the newspaper toward Islam and its prophet, but reaffirms with force its total opposition to any act or form of violence,” said a statement issued by the group.
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said that the country will do everything it can to bring those responsible of the “incursion against press freedom” to justice.
The Federal Reserve Open Market Committee predicts the economy will grow just 1.6 to 1.7 percent in 2011 and estimates growth to be between 2.5 and 2.9 percent in 2012. Both estimates are lower than expected growth numbers released by the Fed over the summer.
The central bank expects unemployment of between 8.5 and 8.7 percent next year, not the drop in unemployment it had previously expected.
“Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. The Committee continues to expect a moderate pace of economic growth over coming quarters and consequently anticipates that the unemployment rate will decline only gradually toward levels that the Committee judges to be consistent with its dual mandate.” The Fed said in a release.
While the most recent information indicates that no immediate action will take place on the part of the Fed to stimulate markets, the option remains on the table in the form of stimulus and lowering interest rates.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said that he is dissatisfied with the slow economic growth and that criticism from Republicans, charging that further Fed action will send inflation soaring, was unsubstantiated, according to The Associated Press.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) released its “World of Work Report 2011” in which the organization predicts a growing global jobs recession and more social unrest.
According to information in the report, slow economic recovery has had a dramatic impact on labor markets, and current trends indicate that it will take at least five years to bring global employment levels to where they were before the financial crisis.
Of the 80 million jobs that the report says would need to be created in two years to bring global employment back to pre-crises levels, only half will become a reality.
The report blames the stifled global job growth on three issues: companies weakened by the recession, lack of international policy coordination to facilitate economic recovery and the unwillingness of many companies to take risky expansion measures in the current economy.
One result of the extremely slow economic recovery, the study says, will be increases in instances of worldwide social unrest because of the lack of jobs and anger over perceptions that the burden of the crisis is not being shared fairly.
At a cost of $20 million to the American taxpayer, U.S. officials have decided to create a version of Sesame Street for Pakistan in order to combat growing radicalization in the country.
The television show, which will feature a cast of Pakistani characters, is part of a broader commitment to provide the country $7.5 billion in foreign aid over five years, according to the Associated Press.
The show will feature a female character named Rani, who loves traditional Pakistani music, who is reportedly supposed to teach Pakistani children about sexual equality and the importance of female education in the male-dominated country.
Seventy-eight episodes will be aired in Pakistan’s national language, Urdu, over a three-year span, as well as 13 in each of the four main regional languages, Baluchi, Pashtu, Punjabi and Sindhi. The shows will appear on Pakistan state television.
The show will reportedly appear much like the American Sesame Street, though without Big Bird and other iconic cast members. Each episode will follow a similar format to its Western counterpart, but the Pakistani Sesame Street will reportedly focus much more on Mideastern themes.
The Administration of Barack Obama has added South Carolina to the list of States being sued by the Justice Department for immigration reform laws.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced the decision to target the State in a Monday press release.
“Today’s lawsuit makes clear once again that the Justice Department will not hesitate to challenge a state’s immigration law, as we have in Arizona, Alabama and South Carolina, if we find that the law interferes with the federal government’s enforcement of immigration,” read a statement from Holder.
South Carolina officials said that if the Federal government were doing more to handle issues regarding illegal immigration, tough State-level legislation would not be necessary.
According to the release, the Justice Department is still reviewing immigration-related laws that were passed in Utah, Indiana and Georgia. Courts have blocked parts of the Arizona, Alabama, Georgia and Indiana State laws and temporarily restrained enforcement of Utah’s law.
The South Carolina reform required police officers to summon Federal immigration authorities if they suspect an arrested person is an illegal alien. The law also makes it a felony for people to use false identification documents for illegal immigrants, and for people to transport illegal immigrants.
Republican Presidential hopeful Rick Perry gave a speech in New Hampshire last Friday that pundits have described as being at times incoherent, over-the-top and bizarre; and the video is currently making its rounds on YouTube.
A giddy Perry spoke to an influential conservative group called Cornerstone in a flamboyant tone and acted as if he was privy to a secret that the rest of the audience was missing out on. At one point, soliciting campaign contributions, the candidate suggested that donations be made in gold.
“Write your checks. Gold is good, if you’ve got any in the back yard, cause, you know, if they print any more money over there in Washington the gold’s gonna be good,” he said.
Some, like the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, have speculated whether Perry was drunk or drugged during his speech, or if he is unwittingly tiptoeing into Howard Dean “yeahwwwaaa” territory.
Perry also said that he loved the New Hampshire “live free or die” State slogan likening it to the Alamo war cry “victory or death.”
“You know we’re kind of into those slogans, man. It’s like, live free or die victory or death. Bring it!” The candidate shouted.
A Perry spokesman responded to inquiries about the candidate’s performance from the Huffington Post saying, “The Governor is passionate about the issues he talks about.”
The Senate has approved a spending bill to the tune of $182 billion that lays out spending for some government agencies until September of next year.
The bill, which met Senate approval in a vote of 69-30, could also gain momentum in the House and avert a spending battle between lawmakers later this month, according to The Washington Post.
The bill is the compilation of three of the 12 separate appropriations bills that Congress was supposed to have adopted before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, though lawmakers had bought time until Nov. 18 to pass spending measures.
Lawmakers have outlined a plan to ensure that an agreement on spending is reached by the deadline. They hope to reach a quick agreement on the most important spending measures and keep other areas of the government operating under last year’s budget. This will reportedly give lawmakers more time to work out budget details.
Many House Republicans say despite what approach is taken to getting spending bills passed, they will oppose any measures that don’t further cut government. With some of the most expensive areas of government to be discussed, partisan fights are expected.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi criticized the United States on Monday for its plans to reorganize the number of military troops in the Mideast following the Iraq withdrawal.
The criticism follows reports that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned countries in the region not to meddle in Iraqi affairs once the U.S. military presence there dwindles.
In order to deter any attempts by other Mideast nations to involve themselves in Iraqi affairs, the Administration of Barack Obama plans to extend ties with the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, according to Xinhua.
“They are not following a rational and a prudent approach. The Americans always have a deficit, unfortunately, in rationality and prudence,” Salehi said at a press conference in Baghdad of the United States’ plans.
Salehi also dismissed warnings from Clinton and Panetta against Iranian interference in Iraq after U.S. forces leave.
“We have been used to such comments from the Americans for the past 30 years,” Salehi said. “Iraq does not need anybody to meddle into its internal affairs. Iraqis know better than anybody else how to run their country.”
Iraqi and Iranian foreign relations have improved in the years following the 2003 downfall of Saddam Hussein. U.S. officials fear that relations between the two countries could prove detrimental to Iraqi democracy.
President Barack Obama has taken steps to reduce shortages of prescription drugs needed to treat chronic conditions by issuing an executive order Monday that instructs the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take action.
According to Fox News, the FDA reported 178 drug shortages last year and an increase in shortages this year. Among the drugs that are most scarce are cancer drugs, anesthetics, drugs used in emergency medicine, and electrolytes needed for intravenous feeding.
The FDA blames the shortages on drug companies’ meddling in supply by discontinuing certain drugs to make room for newer, more profitable alternatives. It also cites manufacturing and quality problems as reasons for drug shortages.
The most recent executive action comes just a week after Obama issued the order implementing the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) and restructuring how students repay student loans without Congressional input. According to Fox, the President’s increasingly common use of the executive order is seen as a way to make him appear to be a counterbalance against Republicans in Congress who recently blocked his jobs proposal.
When businessman Herman Cain was the head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, he was reportedly accused of sexually inappropriate behavior by at least two female coworkers.
According to POLITICO, the women described “unwanted sexual advances” made by Cain while he was running the association. The women reportedly left the organization after receiving “sealed settlements” to avoid formal legal actions.
The Presidential candidate is largely disregarding the story as an attempt at a smear campaign by members of the mainstream establishment who fear his frontrunner status.
A statement on Cain’s website responds to the attacks: “Since Washington establishment critics haven’t had much luck in attacking Mr. Cain’s ideas to fix a bad economy and create jobs, they are trying to attack him in any way they can.”
The statement also calls the allegations “thinly sourced” attempts to “cast aspersions” on Cain’s character.
Cain said in a later interview that he was “falsely accused” of sexual harassment during his time at the National Restaurant Association and that he had “never sexually harassed anyone,” according to The Washington Post.
POLITICO is standing behind the story despite the criticism from Cain’s campaign and notes that while the candidate is attacking, he is not denying the allegations.
It may be just the evidence opponents of vast Federal bureaucracy need. A website set up to help jobseekers find Federal positions is wrought with technical errors and simply doesn’t work correctly, jobseekers say.
The website, which is run by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), is full of bugs because officials say there is a massive amount of traffic on the site, according to The Washington Post.
“If a private contractor was delivering this, the government would have terminated them for cause immediately,” Adam Davidson, general manager for human capital management at Oracle, a company that provides payroll and other systems to Federal agencies, said.
The site was originally run by Monster, a private job search site, but was taken over by the Federal government in 2009 to be reworked by the OPM at a cost of about $20 million, according to budget figures.
Some opponents of the government setting up an in-house job site believe that the move locks out private job search companies from being able to post Federal jobs as the government requires agencies to use the system.
President Barack Obama has given credence to one of the issues most espoused by young Occupy Wall Street protesters: Student loan debts are crippling recent college graduates who are unable to find jobs.
In the United States, student loans are the second largest source of household debt. Obama has offered a plan that he says will ease that burden and free up money for first-time homebuyers and other consumer spending.
The President’s plan will speed up a measure passed by Congress that reduces the maximum required payment on student loans from 15 percent of discretionary income annually to 10 percent. It will go into effect in 2012, instead of 2014. The White House also says the remaining debts will be forgiven after 20 years, instead of 25, according to MSNBC.
In addition to the student loan plan, the Administration is partnering with the Small Business Administration to offer specific programs that will promote young entrepreneurship. The Student Start Up Plan offers recent graduates options to defer student loans and provides informational material for young, business-minded individuals.
Many Republicans are opposed to Obama’s plan, saying deferment will result in financial strain on lenders and poorer service to borrowers.
It has been just five weeks since the military effectively ended its ban on gay and lesbian service members. Now a group of homosexual service members and veterans are filing suit to challenge the Constitutionality of the Federal ban on gay marriage.
On Thursday, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) filed suit at a Boston district court challenging the Constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), as well as laws precluding the military from providing same-sex married couples with the same benefits and family support as their straight, married peers.
“This case is about one thing, plain and simple. It’s about justice for gay and lesbian service members and their families in our armed forces rendering the same military service, making the same sacrifices, and taking the same risks to keep our nation secure at home and abroad,” said Army Veteran and SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis. “These couples are in long term, committed, and legally recognized marriages and the military should not be forced to turn its back on them because the federal government refuses to recognize their families.”
A recent Gallup poll shows that gun ownership in the United States is at its highest level in more than two decades.
According to the poll, 47 percent of Americans say that they have a gun in their home. An earlier poll noted that support for the 2nd Amendment is also at a high.
Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say they have a gun in their household: 55 percent to 40 percent. The gap is narrower than that seen in recent years; the number of Democrats in favor of gun ownership grew last year. The number of women who report household gun ownership is also at a new high: 43 percent.
By region, gun ownership is higher in the South, at 54 percent, and Midwest, at 51 percent. In a finding that Gallup calls typical of trends, in the East only about 36 percent of individuals polled report owning a gun, and in the West about 43 percent own guns.
According to the poll, middle-aged adults — 35 to 54 years old — and adults with no college education are more likely than the rest of the population to be gun owners.
House lawmakers are expected to approve legislation today to repeal an Internal Revenue Service plan to withhold 3 percent of payments to contractors at every level of government.
The withholding tax was designed to go after contractors who were delinquent on their taxes, but lobbyists say it is burdensome to taxpayers and an example of government overreach, according to The Hill.
Once the measure moves through the House, it is expected to gain steam in the Senate. Last week, 57 senators voted for an appeal, just three votes short of what was needed for passage.
Implementation of the tax has been delayed more than once since it was created in 2006. The 2009 stimulus packaged pushed it to 2012; and last May, the IRS delayed it until 2013.
Lost revenue from withholding tax repeal will be offset by legislation sponsored by Representative Diane Black (R-Tenn.) that sets strict limits on Medicaid eligibility, a move that was recommended by the President to the supercommittee, according to The Hill.
Lawmakers who were in favor of the tax fear that repeal means more avenues for government contractors to cheat tax obligations. Reportedly, they are calling for other measures to enforce tax codes in the absence of the withholding tax.
Tear gas, non-lethal bullets, flash-bang grenades and arrests “under the suspicion of unlawful assembly” are now all definite realities in the streets of American cities that have been overtaken by Occupy protesters.
While their demands are ill-defined, the protesters’ fate, it seems, is sealed by the hands of officials in cities like Oakland, Calif., and Atlanta who have instructed police to conduct raids on encampments to quell the dissent.
In Oakland, a pre-dawn raid Tuesday that turned violent effectively eliminated all but a handful of protesters from areas around the city hall. Police fired upon the protesters with non-lethal bullets, and they employed the use of tear gas and flash-bang grenades to disperse protesters. Protesters reportedly attempted to fight back by lobbing glass bottles and stones at police.
Police forces in Atlanta were able to more peaceably remove protesters from Woodruff Park. In both instances, media reports indicate that police arrived in full riot gear. In Oakland there were reports of armored vehicles conducting patrols.
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According to The Associated Press, most of the arrests being made are for disorderly conduct or “suspicion of unlawful assembly,” which has raised ire from some people who do not even agree with the Occupiers’ anger. One man in Atlanta, who did not give his name, arrived at the protest with a rifle in tow. He said that while he was not in agreement with the protesters’ message, he wanted to “protect their right to protest.”
As lawmakers face the facts of soaring deficits and a mountain of Federal debt, they may opt to rethink the way that Americans pay for the roads and highways they use every day.
According to POLITICO, the Highway Trust Fund, money set aside for resurfacing and highway infrastructure, will be nearly $100 billion in the red by 2021, and the mass transit account will be about $30 billion short. The article says that because gas and diesel taxes have not been increased in two decades, the fund has lost about one-third of its purchasing power since 1992.
Reportedly, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Trucking Association and AAA have all lobbied lawmakers for an increase in fuel taxes to re-energize revenues, but Congress stands nearly unanimously against the measure. Most lawmakers say that raising fuel taxes in today’s economic climate would greatly harm businesses that rely on ground shipping services to transport goods throughout the country.
Instead of raising the price of fuel, many lawmakers support what some Americans may consider an egregious invasion of privacy to raise funding for roadway repairs. The measure would require American drivers to equip their vehicles with a GPS tracking device to measure vehicle miles traveled (VMT). The device would not only measure the number of miles traveled but also where a driver went during each trip, which route he took and the hours during which he was driving.
Some proponents of the measure say the generation raised on Facebook and Twitter — proudly posting their every move for an Internet audience — probably will not mind being tracked in their vehicles by the government.
A recent national CBS News poll shows businessman Herman Cain leading the pack of 2012 GOP Presidential hopefuls as Americans begin to pay closer attention to the primary race.
The poll, released Tuesday, shows Cain gathering support from 25 percent of Republican primary voters followed by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney at 21 percent. The most recent numbers, tabulated Oct. 19-24, show Cain edging past Romney, with whom he was tied at 17 percent support earlier in the month.
According to the poll’s results, much of Cain’s support comes from Tea Party members, with 32 percent of the group behind his message. Romney has held at a steady 18 percent Tea Party favorability while Texas Governor Rick Perry has 7 percent support from the conservative group.
Trailing Romney in the national poll is former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich with 10 percent overall support and 15 percent support among Tea Party members, and Representative Ron Paul of Texas at 8 percent overall support and 9 percent favor among Tea Partiers.
The poll also says that Americans are becoming increasingly interested in the Presidential race, with 70 percent of registered voters paying at least some attention to campaigns.
A behavioral study of Boston-area high school students provides a link between high levels of consumption of carbonated non-diet soft drinks and violent behavior. Researchers call their findings the “Twinkie Defense,” relating diminished mental capacity to junk food.
The study published in Injury Prevention was the result of researcher interviews with 1,878 teens from 22 high schools. The teens were asked how many cans of carbonated non-diet soft drinks they regularly consume and the data divided into two groups: those who had consumed fewer than four cans over the preceding week (low consumption), and those who had consumed five or more (high consumption).
Another line of questioning in the survey analyzed possible indicators of violent behavior: Had the students been in violent altercations with peers, siblings or partners? Had they carried a gun or knife during the past year?
The information indicates that students who drank higher numbers of soft drinks were about 20 percent more likely to have carried weapons, 12 percent more likely to have been violent toward a partner, 23 percent more likely to exhibit violence toward peers and 17.6 percent more likely to be violent toward siblings.
Overall, heavy soft drink consumers were 9 to 15 percentage points more likely to be violent, concordant with figures linking alcohol and tobacco use to violence in teens.
“There may be a direct cause-and-effect-relationship, perhaps due to the sugar or caffeine content of soft drinks, or there may be other factors, unaccounted for in our analyses, that cause both high soft drink consumption and aggression,” the study’s authors conclude.