Economists Rate Obama’s Policies Fair Or Poor

President Barack Obama received mediocre marks for his handling of the economy in a survey of economists by The Associated Press.

The news outlet reported that the economy is struggling to recover from the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009, as the housing market remains weak, the unemployment rate is up from when Obama took office and the European debt crisis is threatening further growth.

Half of the 36 respondents to the AP survey rated Obama’s economic policies as “fair” and 13 of those surveyed called them “poor.” Only five of the economists gave the President “good” marks and none rated him as “excellent.”

According to the news outlet, the criticisms from economists vary, as some note his healthcare overhaul provided a distraction for the President while others have targeted his “poorly designed” $862 billion stimulus program.

“Healthcare reform wasn’t necessarily the most important thing to be dealing with when you’re in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression,” Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economics, told the AP.

The Miami Herald predicts that 2012 will be more of the same in terms of the economy, as experts have noted that it will not be much worse than 2011, but not much better.

New Laws To Take Effect In 2012 After Conference Of State Legislatures

The National Conference of State Legislatures issued its annual list of laws set to take effect in 2012, as several States prohibited the sale of certain products and medicines or made acquiring these items more difficult, The Washington Times reported.

According to the newspaper, California and Oregon passed laws prohibiting the sale, trade or distribution of shark fins – used in shark-fin soup – and the former also became the first State in the country to require a prescription for any drug containing dextromethorphan. This ingredient is found in many popular over-the-counter cough suppressants.

The Times reported that voter identification continued to be a hot topic for legislators in 2011, as four States, including Kansas, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Texas, approved laws that required voters to present photo identification before casting a ballot.

POLITICO reported that a handful of States also passed laws in 2011 restricting texting and the use of cell phones while driving, and in several Southern States businesses will need to enroll in the Federal E-Verify program to work, requiring confirmation of their employees’ immigration status.

U.S. Eyes Talks With Taliban In 2012

The President Barack Obama Administration is hoping to restore momentum in 2012 to U.S. talks with the Taliban insurgency that had reached a critical point before falling apart in December, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, the talks began to falter after Afghan President Hamid Karzai objected to the correspondence, U.S. and Afghan officials said. One goal of the renewed communication would be to identify cease-fire zones that may be used as a steppingstone towards a full peace agreement.

The AP reported that officials from the State Department and White House plan to continue a series of secret meetings with representatives of the Taliban in Europe and the Persian Gulf next year. This is reliant on the assumption that a small group of emissaries from the group would remain willing to do so.

The Taliban is about to open its first official office, according to Afghan and Western officials, as the group is expected to began operating a site in Qatar within the next several months, ABC News reported.

Congress Frees Up Aid Money To Palestinians

Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., have freed up a little more than 20 percent of $187 million in U.S. assistance to the Palestinians that had been frozen due to the Palestinian bid for membership in the U.N., The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, members of Congress have made $40 million available for economic and humanitarian aid for the Palestinians.

The money is administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development and “has been vital to establishing and strengthening the foundations necessary for a future Palestinian state,” according to State Department officials.

The Administration of President Barack Obama had been urging lawmakers, with Israel’s backing, to release the money. According to the AP, the funding will contribute to stability for Palestinians and will help with Israeli security.

Members of the Obama Administration are pressing Congress to release the remaining $147 million in funding.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Congress has been unhappy with the Palestinian leadership, due to their quest to win statehood.

Senate Republicans Look To Block Labor Board Appointments

As the year is coming to an end, Republican lawmakers and President Barack Obama are engaged in another battle of wills, this time concerning potential unconfirmed appointments to controversial boards, Fox News reported.

According to the news outlet, the Republicans are refusing to officially adjourn for the year in order to prevent the President from making any appointments while Congress is on vacation.

The two parties can't agree on new National Labor Relations Board members, as only two positions on the board are filled going into next year. This, according to Fox News, may be the reason that Obama could try and make an appointment while Congress is in recess.

"I guess he could squeeze that in, but I think it is a bad idea. I think recess appointments, for the most part, are done to bypass the Senate, the advice and consent that is required under the Constitution," Senator Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) said in a statement.

The Hill reported that all 47 Republican Senators sent the President a letter on Monday asking that he not make the recess appointments.

No Parade Planned For U.S. Troops At End Of Iraq War

Americans will likely not be seeing a ticker-tape parade anytime soon for U.S. troops returning from Iraq, as it is unclear whether the veterans will ever enjoy the grand, flag-waving spectacle-laden homecoming that fighting men and women received after World War II and the Gulf War, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, officials in New York and Washington have said they would be happy to stage a big celebration, but Pentagon officials noted they haven’t been asked to plan such an event.

The AP reported that part of the hesitation comes from the notion that the bloody war in Afghanistan is ongoing, and a big celebration could be seen as premature.

“It’s going to be a bit awkward to be celebrating too much, given how much there is going on and how much there will be going on in Afghanistan,” Don Mrozek, a military history professor at Kansas State University, told the news outlet.

The Houston Chronicle reported that State Department officials have noted they expect 5,000 security contractors will remain in Iraq during 2012 to protect U.S. diplomats, as well as a “life support” team of an additional 4,500 contractors to provide other services.

Tyranny: It’s Here

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is the new vehicle to ensure our oppression by a tyrannical government. Representative Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Armed Services, wrote a defensive piece on RedState titled “Myths on the New Detainee Policy.” He had intended to allay our fears about the hidden trap in this unConstitutional piece of legislation. He is quite mistaken, as are Georgia’s two Senators who voted for it. The threat in this bill to the 6th Amendment and, thus, American citizens is real.

McKeon claims the act does not address or extend any new authority to detain U.S. Citizens; but, in fact, it does. The NDAA actually grants — indeed, mandates — immense unConstitutional power to the White House. The President is to be afforded absolute power to use the Army to arrest and detain U.S. citizens without due process, i.e., a warrant issued by a judge or a preliminary hearing to be advised of charges — let alone a trial (Section 1031).

The act affirms that arrest and detention by the Army of “covered persons” within the United States is legal. Section 1031 reveals all: “a covered person” is one who engages in terrorist acts, or anyone associated with an organization guilty of belligerent acts.

So, regardless of the protections afforded by the 6th Amendment, the Senate’s bill will actually allow the government to lock up any citizen it wants if someone swears he or she is a terrorist. How hard is that?

Now is a good time to review an earlier unfortunate and unchallenged change to our thought processes. A few years ago, liberals wanted to make certain crimes more horrible than regular old crimes so they added “hate crime” to our vernacular. Why? Some liberal said so, and we bought into it. Now we have a Marxist President who, through his toadies like Eric Holder and Janet Napolitano, has already identified Tea Party members, returning veterans and retired cops as potential terrorists to be detained until the end of the war. It’s not legal simply because some stupid politicians say it is. And, as for stupid politicians, we can thank Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) for being the architects of this unConstitutional monstrosity.

Proponents refer to other sections of the bill to deny that arrests and detention of U.S. citizens are authorized. It applies, it is said, only to al-Qaida and associates. However, two sections of the act contradict each other. The Chief of Staff of Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said the bill does not authorize such draconian action. And  Representative Lynn A. Westmorland (R-Ga.) produced this denial:

I understand the concerns and that is why there were numerous questions asked about this, so I want to reassure that you will be protected. The U.S. Constitution guarantees U.S. citizens on U.S. soil will have due process and nothing within this legislation will take away that right. These people claiming your constitutional rights are violated by this legislation are using fear tactics to drum up support against legislation that is needed to make sure our men and women in uniform get paid for their service to our country.

I have not yet lost the faculty to read and reason and I am not sanguine in those assurances from the “elite political class,” especially since they come from politicians who have lost our confidence and have lost their way. Let’s be honest, the wording that would allow the arrest and detention of American citizens is still there, like a land mine waiting to explode in our faces. Really, do we still want to put our trust and belief in somebody who says: “Trust me, I’m from the government and I just want to help you?” Remember, Freedom is the goal; The Constitution is the way. Go get ’em!

–George McClellan

Approval Of Reactor May Lead To New Nuclear Plants

Federal regulators have approved a nuclear reactor that was designed by Westinghouse Electric Co. that could power the first new plants built in the U.S. in more than three decades, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission unanimously approved the AP1000 reactor late last week. This certification, taking effect within two weeks, will be valid for a period of 15 years.

Gregory B. Jaczko, chairman of the commission, noted that all of the safety concerns for the new reactor had been fully addressed in the certification process, according to The New York Times.

“The design provides enhanced safety margins through use of simplified, inherent, passive or other innovative safety and security functions, and also has been assessed to ensure it could withstand damage from an aircraft impact without significant release of radioactive materials,” he said in a statement.

According to the newspaper, the decision is a rare agreement among the regulatory commissioners, who have been split this year on policy and management issues. Last week four of these individuals testified before Congress that Dr. Jaczko limited the flow of information to the other members.

California Attorney General Sues Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac

California’s Attorney General filed lawsuits against Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac last week, demanding that the companies respond to questions in a State investigation, reported The Associated Press.

According to the news outlet, the two mortgage giants, which own roughly 60 percent of the mortgages in the State, are the target of an investigation led by Attorney General Kamala Harris into their involvement in 12,000 foreclosed properties in California.

The AP reported that Harris also wants to find out what role the companies had in selling or marketing mortgage-backed securities. The lawsuit asks the mortgage firms to reveal whether they have information on the decreased value of those homes due to several factors, including the presence of drug dealing or explosives.

“Foreclosures not only affect the families who lose their homes, but also the safety, health and welfare of the entire community,” the lawsuit said.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Securities and Exchange Commission has alleged securities fraud against former executives at the two mortgage firms over deceptive and misleading public statements in the wake of the financial crisis.

Obama’s ‘4th-Best’ President Claim Draws Criticism

After receiving a barrage of ridicule following claims by President Barack Obama that he was the “fourth-best” President, the White House went on the defensive and tried to qualify his assessment, The Washington Times reported.

According to the newspaper, Presidential Spokesman Jay Carney noted that the comments were taken out of context and said he statement was based in part on the “volume” of his achievements.

“The issue here is not going be a list of accomplishments,” Obama told Steve Kroft of CBS’s 60 Minutes during an interview. “As you said yourself, Steve, you know, I would put our legislative and foreign-policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president – with the possible exceptions of Johnson, FDR and Lincoln – just in terms of what we’ve gotten done in modern history.”

The newspaper reported that critics observed that the comments were vain and full of illusions of grandeur.

POLITICO reported that Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said that Obama will leave a lasting impact, but didn’t agree with his claim that his accomplishments put him over all but three Presidents.

EPA Announces Rules For Oil And Coal Plants

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that hundreds of the nation’s oldest and dirtiest power plants have to either clean up or shut down as part of a new rule outlined last week, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, the EPA will force plants to control mercury and other toxic pollutants for the first time.

The national standards rein in the biggest source of uncontrolled toxic pollution in the U.S. The emissions from the nation’s coal-and oil-fired power plants, which have been permitted to operate for decades without addressing the impact on the environment and public health costs, the AP reported.

“Before this rule, there were no national standards limiting the amount of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases that power plants across the country could release into the air that we breathe,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said at a conference.

According to TIME Magazine, the public health benefits, as reported by the EPA, will allegedly prevent some 11,000 premature deaths a year and 130,000 childhood asthma symptoms. However, the cost of these regulations may run to $11 billion per year.

Senate Approves Payroll Tax Cut, Unemployment Benefits

The Senate has approved a two-month renewal of payroll tax cuts for every worker and unemployment benefits for millions, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, the adoption of the measure buys time for negotiations at the beginning of next year on how to pay for a year-long extension of the two percentage point payroll tax cut.

The AP reported that this move would boost the average paycheck of the average worker making an annual salary of $50,000 by up to $20 a week.

House leaders are looking to approve the measure as well, as the goal is to call up the bill using an expedited process that would not require lawmakers to return to Washington for a traditional roll-call vote, according to Fox News.

The news outlet reported that although the plan is for an ultra-quick voting process, the outcome is contingent on there being no objections from lawmakers on the floor.

President Barack Obama noted that this was the only way to ensure taxes won’t go up on January 1, according to Fox News.

“This is good news, just in time for the holidays,” Obama said in a written statement. “This is real money that will make a real difference in people’s lives.”

New Mexico Sheriffs Standing Tall

Gun Owners of America member Dr. Ray Seidel alerted me to the stirring of freedom that is taking place in his village of Ruidoso, N.M. I have already reported on the first battle with Mayor Ray Alborn and how he tried to impose an unConstitutional gun ban in the village.

I recently interviewed Seidel on my Gun Owners News Hour weekly radio program and asked him about several acts of local interposition in the surrounding counties — all of which underscore the importance of the office of the sheriff and the militia.

For example, near Deming, N.M., is the Gila National Forest. The U.S. Forest Service wanted to make almost all of it off limits for people — until the militia of Luna County intervened. The militia told the Feds that it would resist any effort by the Forest Service to restrict access to visitors. The result? Visitors have continued to access all of the Gila National Forest.

In the Southeast corner of the State, many landowners have working oil wells on their property. The Environmental Protection Agency told the oil operators they would have to stop operating their wells because there was too much risk of harming the environment. At a town hall meeting convened by the EPA, a woman in her 60s rose to address the Feds. She pointed out that her land had been in her family for more than 200 years, and she was not about to let some official from an unConstitutional bureaucracy tell her what she could or could not do with her land.

The woman ended by warning the Feds that her family has many guns and a huge supply of ammunition and they would use all of it, if needed, to keep the EPA off of their land. The locals who had packed out the hearing room jumped to their feet with a shout and prolonged applause. That was in August. So far, oil is still being pumped at full tilt.

In Otero County, villages in the mountains are surrounded by forests. The county commission voted to establish an 80,000-acre plan to manage forest overgrowth. Residents wanted to cut fire breaks to protect their homes in Cloudcroft, but the Forest Service said, “No.” The residents responded that they had to for safety’s sake and were going to construct the fire break in spite of the Forest Service. Residents were told that if they cut down any trees, they would be arrested. But Sheriff Benny House told the Forest Service that if they made any arrests, they would be arrested for false arrest.

Not only were the trees cut down with no opposition from the Feds, but the first tree was cut down by Representative Steve Pearce (R-N.M.). I wish there were many more people like Pearce. The folks in New Mexico’s Second District are blessed with a Constitution-supporting congressman and a number of Constitutional sheriffs backed by the militias of their counties. This is the way that local governments can push back and help the Feds live within the limitations that have been placed upon them in Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution.

As you can see, there’s a lot happening in New Mexico. Seidel has been at the center of a lot of it. Two weeks after the people of Ruidoso prevailed in the gun ban debate, the mayor decided to seek revenge. He went to the State capital of Santa Fe and met with Federal officials there. That same week, Seidel got a notice from the Internal Revenue Service stating that he had until a certain date to file his taxes, which he has refused to do for several years.

Seidel makes no secret of his refusal to submit to the IRS, which he considers part of an unConstitutional regime in Washington. The IRS intended to encumber his assets if he did not bend his knee. Seidel visited the county sheriff, who understood what Seidel was trying to do and told him he would have his back. The same was true for the village police chief, the same officer who refused to have his men arrest people who were defying the Ruidoso gun ban by carrying openly in the village council chambers.

Not only were the sheriff and police chief alerted to the possibility of IRS action against Seidel, but so was the militia in Lincoln County — more than 200 men who keep their rifles and battle bags in their vehicles 24/7. They can muster in about 30 minutes at any place in the county.

Seidel visited with the village assessor, who would be the official to place the encumbrances on his assets. Seidel explained (as he does with everyone) that Title 42, Chapter 1, Subchapter 1, Section 1983 of the Federal code would be used to sue her personally for violating his civil rights. That is, he would sue her if any of his assets were encumbered without having first secured a warrant from an Article III court.

Seidel has frequently argued that he will gladly submit to a Federal court (authorized under Article III of the U.S. Constitution) as opposed to a mere tax court (which is an unConstitutional creature within the IRS). As with many administrative agencies, the combining of legislative, executive and judicial powers within the same four walls constitutes the very definition of tyranny, which James Madison warned us about in Federalist 47.

Seidel has used Title 42 on other occasions. One involved a state trooper with an anger-management problem who falsely arrested Seidel’s son. Since being served with a Title 42 suit, the officer has been able to control his anger.

The deadline is long past and the IRS has done nothing, so the assessor is off the hook for now. But New Mexico is becoming a textbook example of how the Founding Fathers envisioned the States would rein in an out-of-control government.

As stated by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 28: “It may safely be received as an axiom in our political system that the State governments will, in all possible contingencies, afford complete security against invasions of the public liberty by the national authority.”

If there were more sheriffs like those in New Mexico serving around the country, we would be well on the way to safeguarding our liberties against Washington’s “invasions of the public liberty.” It also might occur to the Congress that more examples of sheriffs interposing themselves might result in shrinking down the Federal government to do little more than just funding the national defense.

–Larry Pratt

Defense Department Reports Fewer Than 300 National Guard Troops Will Be Kept At Border

The Administration of President Barack Obama will keep a small amount of National Guard troops stationed along the Mexican border for the next year, the Defense Department said on Tuesday.

The Associated Press reported that starting in January, the force of 1,200 National Guard troops at the border will be reduced to less than 300 at a cost of roughly $60 million, noted Paul Stockton, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense.

According to the news outlet, the troops will divert their efforts to the air, as they will switch from patrolling the border on the ground to using aerial surveillance missions in military helicopters and airplanes equipped with high-tech radar and other gear.

“We are basically going from boots on the ground to boots in the air,” David Aguilar, deputy commissioner for Customs and Border Protection, told the AP.

The Hill reported that the reaction in Congress was split along party lines, as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) noted that troops should remain until Border Patrol agents have assumed control of a majority of the operations.

“If the Obama Administration’s goal is border security, their actions undermine their objective,” Smith said. “The administration’s decision to draw down the National Guard troops along the U.S.-Mexico border makes an already porous border worse.”

House GOP Plans To Reject Payroll Tax Cut Extension

With the Upper Chamber on break for the holidays, GOP members of the House are moving to shelve a bipartisan two-month extension of the Social Security payroll tax cut that was cleared by the Senate, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, these Representatives are demanding that the Senate return to the Capitol for negotiations over the tax cuts. President Barack Obama’s tax initiative and other expiring measures include jobless benefits for roughly 1.8 million people who will lose them next month if Congress doesn’t act.

The AP reported that the House Republicans said they would move to set up an official House-Senate negotiating panel known as a conference committee instead of accepting the stopgap measure cleared by the Senate.

“Do you want to do something for 60 days that kicks the can down the road?” Representative Jeb Hensarling, (R-Texas) said in a statement. “Or do you want to do what the president asked us to do? And we’re people who don’t agree with the president all that often.”

CNN reported that if the measure is not passed in 12 days, the payroll tax cut that has saved a typical household $1,000 this year will expire.

Supreme Court To Hear Healthcare Challenge In March

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear challenges to the Affordable Care Act in March 2012, as the battle over “Obamacare” will be taken to the nation’s highest court, The Washington Times reported.

According to the newspaper, the court announced that the three-day hearing will take place March 26 to 28.

Shortly after the news broke, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius unveiled 32 healthcare providers that have been selected to become Accountable Care Organizations. These would act as new models created under the law that is intended to improve efficiencies and cut costs.

Though the court usually allots less time for oral arguments, the healthcare issue is so highly contested that the longer period was provided for both sides to make their arguments, the Times reported.

“We’re really looking forward to arguing this case, and we have all the confidence in the world in our standing in it,” Cynthia Magnuson, spokeswoman for the National Federation of Independent Business, told the newspaper of her optimism that the law will be overturned.

The Hill reported that the timing of the hearing has promoted the expectation that the court will rule on the issue next June.

Democrats Outpace Republicans In Race For Lobbyist Cash

The national political parties took more money from lobbyists in the first half of 2011 than in any other six-month period in recorded history, with the Democrats outpacing their GOP rivals, The Washington Times reported.

According to the newspaper, this outpacing has occurred despite President Barack Obama’s vilification of special-interest giving. Congressional records show that the Republicans’ fundraising groups have received $1 million from lobbyists compared with the $1.3 million taken by the Democrats.

“It’s hypocritical,” Howard Marlowe, president of the American League of Lobbyists, told the Times. “He’s found someone who’s got a couple percentage points lower [approval] than Congress and he’s going to pound away. … Meanwhile, all these folks absolutely love money from whatever source, as long as it’s legal.”

Lobbyists from all areas of business have continued to donate to Federal organizations. According to The Associated Press, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the securities industry’s self-policing organization, spent $280,000 in the third quarter to lobby on regulations in the industry.

The news outlet reported that FINRA directed this money to lobby Congress and the Securities and Exchange Commission, who have been writing rules to put into effect the 2010 revamp of financial laws.

To Barack From Congress: Merry Christmas

The most predictable governing body on the planet, the U.S. Congress, is once again doing some of its sleaziest sleight-of-hand work at year’s end, with the comfort of knowing that we lowly proletarians are focused on holiday festivities. The average American is totally confused about the flurry of year-end legislation and political posturing coming out of the Nation’s capital, and with good reason: Politicians work hard at creating confusion.

Now, let’s see if I understand this. The Dems want to “cut taxes” by extending a “tax holiday” on some of the money that workers pay into the Social Security retirement “fund.” Could it be that Democrats aren’t as liberal as some of us have believed them to be? After all, they can’t be so bad if they actually favor a tax cut.

I wish that were true, but it isn’t. The truth is that it’s nothing more than a gimmick to keep American piglets mesmerized while feeding at the government’s entitlement trough.

I realize that many true-blue conservatives and libertarians believe that any tax cut is a good tax cut; and, in theory, they’re right. But cutting payroll taxes is an illusory tax cut. It’s attacking the symptom (payroll taxes) rather than the cause (Social Security). And, like it or not, for now Social Security is a fact of life in the People’s Republic of America.

That being the case, if not enough money is extracted from workers to pay Social Security benefits to those who currently qualify for them, it has to be taken through an invisible tax (“inflation”) or paid for by politicians’ favorite tax targets: our children and grandchildren (by borrowing the money needed to cover the shortfall).

So far, so bad. Now, to the second part of the year-end razzle-dazzle game: extending unemployment benefits. Has any Republican Congressperson taken the trouble to ask: “What do unemployment benefits have to do with extending the payroll tax cut?”

Will Republicans ever say no to an extension of unemployment benefits? Absolutely, positively not. After all, principles can get in the way of capturing votes. Progressive Republicans in the House and Senate are very convincing when they rail against wealth redistribution in front of the TV cameras. Then, they turn right around and vote for it even more convincingly. The truth be known, Republicans have never met a piece of wealth-redistribution legislation they didn’t like.

Segue to the third piece of Congress’ year-end game of razzle-dazzle: the Keystone XL pipeline, which has absolutely nothing to do with either payroll taxes or unemployment benefits. It’s just more of the same. Spin, twist, obfuscate and lie convincingly enough, and the anesthetized public, too fatigued from Christmas shopping and football, can be counted on to not understand that a hemorrhoidectomy is being performed on them — again.

What the Keystone XL pipeline issue does is give accommodating Republicans the escape hatch they always seek in order to be able to falsely claim victory in their losing efforts against Democrats. After all, how can you not applaud Republicans for agreeing to a bill that gives the illusion of moving forward with an oil pipeline from Canada, a project that promises to create thousands of jobs and help wean America off its dependency on foreign oil?

If that’s what it did, maybe you could forgive Republicans for once again extending unemployment benefits in exchange for getting their way on the Keystone XL pipeline. But that is not what it does. As always, there’s an out for our humble leader in the White House who now claims to be the fourth most effective president in American history (after Lyndon B. Johnson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln — meaning that Barack Obama believes he’s been a better President than such run-of-the-mill guys as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson).

The out I’m referring to is that the wording in the bill requires Obama to grant a permit for the pipeline unless he decides that it’s “not in the national interest.” Gosh, I wonder what the likelihood is of his deciding it’s not in the “national interest?” Sounds a bit like “that depends upon what the meaning of is is.”

In other words, the legislation merely speeds up the decision process on Keystone, but does not determine whether the project will be approved. And the State Department, which has the final authority over approving the project, has already made it clear that it would not be able to conduct the necessary review if given only 60 days, the timeline set by House Republicans. That sounds to me like “case closed.”

Interestingly, Obama’s former National Security Adviser, Jim Jones — who almost never contradicts his one-time boss — said last week in a press call sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute: “… any threat to this project, by delay or otherwise, would constitute a significant setback. The failure to [move forward with the project] will prolong the risk to our economy and our energy security [and] send the wrong message to job creators.”

Risk to our economy… risk to our energy future… send the wrong message to job creators? Sounds to me like Obama’s Christmas wish list. After all, you can’t expect a mere $4 million Hawaiian vacation to satisfy a highfalutin community organizer of his stature.

–Robert Ringer

EPA Ponders Expanded Regulatory Power

The focus of an upcoming global United Nations conference will be the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) goal to change how it makes decisions and analyzes problems to give it more power to regulate businesses, communities and ecosystems in the name of “sustainable development,” according to Fox News.

The news outlet reported that the major reason behind the EPA thinking is a study that the agency commissioned last year from the National Academies of Science. The study, entitled “Sustainability and the U.S. EPA,” cost nearly $700,000 and was run by a team of outside experts and staff from the academies.

Fox News reported that the aim of the study was to determine how to integrate sustainability “as one of the key drivers within the regulatory responsibilities of EPA.” The panel also wrote that part of its job is to be “providing guidance to EPA on how it might implement its existing statutory authority to contribute more fully to a more sustainable-development trajectory for the United States.”

The Associated Press reported that rules from the EPA have recently threatened to shut down more than 32 coal-fired power plants in a dozen States.

U.S. And North Korea Hold Talks Over Food Aid

U.S. officials say food aid to North Korea may resume depending on whether Pyongyang can provide the necessary monitoring assurances in talks between the two countries that began in Beijing, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, the United Nations and charities from the U.S. have said that aid is needed in this Asian country, but the Americans are concerned that North Korea, which has consolidated resources into a nuclear weapons program, could divert the food aid to political elites and the military.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Wednesday that the aid could include both vitamin supplements and high-protein biscuits for malnourished individuals in addition to more generic food, according to the AP.

These items would be less likely to end up "on some leader's banquet table," said Nuland in a conference. "They (North Korean officials) know that we were obviously deeply dissatisfied with the way this went before and that we need more discussions about it."

TIME magazine reported that the North Korean government recently threatened their neighbors to the south after South Koreans fixed large towers on the border with Christmas lights.

Gold Prices Gain On European Uncertainty

The price of gold rose for a second straight day in New York, rebounding from a drop last week, as concerns about Europe's debt crisis push demand upwards, Bloomberg reported.

According to the news outlet, gold had dropped last week due to the sharp rise of the American dollar versus the euro, but the metal was able to recover the losses after Fitch Ratings lowered its outlook for several European nations.

"Gold suffered from a renewed rush for dollar liquidity, but in the long run its outlook remains solid," Andrey Kryuchenkov, an analyst at VTB Capital in London, told Bloomberg. "Accommodative monetary policy across the globe will continue to secure gold’s inflation hedge role."

The news outlet reported that Goldman Sachs analysts predicted prices for the metal will average $1,810 an ounce next year as central banks will buy between 400 and 600 metric tons of gold.

The price of gold for February delivery rose by $9.50 to $1,607.50 an ounce on the New York Mercantile Exchange, marking an increase of 0.60 percent for the commodity, according to CNN.

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Il Dies At 69

Kim Jong Il, supreme leader of North Korea, died on Saturday, December 17, after an apparent heart attack during a train ride, state television reported, according to Forbes.

The news outlet reported that the North Korean leader is said to have had a history of serious ailments, including diabetes, stroke and pancreatic cancer. He may have been on dialysis at the time of his passing.

Fox News reported that President Barack Obama is consulting with allies following the death of Il, as the heart attack has catapulted his son Kim Jong Un to power. This transition could further destabilize the world’s most isolated country.

“This brings extraordinary change and uncertainty to a country that has seen little change in decades. South Korea’s concern is warranted, frankly, because an insecure North Korea could well be an even more dangerous North Korea,” a U.S. official told the news outlet.

The military and police forces of South Korea were placed on high alert following the death of Kim, and president Lee Myung-bak spoke with Obama to reaffirm “the United States’ strong commitment to the stability of the Korean Peninsula and the security of our close ally,” according to the White House.

Congress Overturns Ban On Incandescent Light Bulbs

Congressional negotiators struck a deal that overturns the new rules that would have banned sales of traditional incandescent light bulbs beginning in 2012, The Washington Times reported.

According to the newspaper, Congressional Republicans won inclusion of the light bulb provision into the massive 1,200 page spending bill. This move prevents the Administration of President Barack Obama from carrying through a 2007 law that would have set energy efficiency standards which would have rendered the traditional light source obsolete.

Although the bill doesn’t amend the 2007 law, it prohibits the Administration from spending any money to carry out the light bulb standards, the Times reported.

The Hill reported that the light bulb standards put forth by the Energy Department have come under fire from conservatives in recent months. The energy legislation contained provisions that would require traditional incandescent bulbs to be 30 percent more efficient starting in 2012.

Republicans had described the standards as a “light bulb ban,” arguing that the rules would restrict consumer choice by pushing out traditional incandescent bulbs in favor of more expensive, but more efficient, LED (light emitting diode) and CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs, according to the news outlet.