New Defense Plan To Shift Focus To Asia

President Barack Obama is helping to coordinate a new Pentagon strategy for absorbing hundreds of billions of dollars in defense budget cuts, as this move will mark a turning point in U.S. security policy, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, Obama planned to make an appearance in the Pentagon press briefing room to announce the results of a strategy review that he ordered last spring. The aim of this was to streamline the military in an era where budgets are lower and to reassess the defense priorities in light of what is occurring in Asia.

The AP reported that Obama’s decision to announce the results himself underscores the political dimension of the debate in Washington over defense savings. The Administration has noted that cuts to the budget are essential, but will not come at a cost to the strength of the U.S. military.

According to POLITICO, the strategy focuses on crafting a nimble, tech-savvy military capable of swooping in to confront terrorists on a global scale. This force will supposedly be able to deter the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, along with countering a rising China in the western Pacific.

Obama Appoints Three To Labor Board, Bypasses Congress

Only hours after appointing the head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau while Congress was not in session, President Barack Obama bypassed opposition from the GOP to appoint three individuals to the National Labor Relations Board, Fox News reported.

According to the news outlet, the move was praised by union leaders, but Republicans threatened legal action and said Obama is setting a dangerous precedent in bypassing Congress.

Fox News reported that the board usually has five members, but has only been operating with three. It lost another member this week, hampering its ability to conduct regular business.

“The American people deserve to have qualified public servants fighting for them every day – whether it is to enforce new consumer protections or uphold the rights of working Americans,” said Obama during an announcement. “We can’t wait to act to strengthen the economy and restore security for our middle class and those trying to get in it, and that’s why I am proud to appoint these fine individuals to get to work for the American people.”

Reuters reported that the new members of the board will be sworn in for 18-month terms, and the five-member panel will consist of three Democrats and two Republicans.

Ohio Quake Tied To Shale Gas Operations

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio, Jan. 5 (UPI) — Pumping wastewater from shale gas operations deep underground was the likely cause of minor earthquakes recorded recently in Ohio, scientists said.

A 2.7-magnitude earthquake rocked Ohio on Christmas Eve, followed by a 4.0-magnitude quake on New Year’s Eve.

Ohio authorities called on scientists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory to conduct seismic studies of an area near Youngstown, Ohio, after nine small earthquakes were recorded last year.

All of the quakes were recorded within a 5-mile radius of a wastewater injection well run by Northstar Disposal Services, Scientific American reports.

Scientists with the Earth Observatory said the holiday quakes were triggered by operations tied to shale gas work in the area. John Armbruster, a lead scientist at the observatory, said the two quakes were centered within a half-mile of the injection well.

Armbruster’s team said the quakes were triggered by wastewater from shale gas operations that acted as a lubricant at a fault located about 1 mile underground.

Ohio lawmakers called on shale operators to stop working in the region during an investigation into the quakes.

Most criticism of shale gas has focused on the chemicals used in the process. A similar quake was associated with shale operations in Great Britain last year.

White House: Iran Threatening Over Strait Of Hormuz Because It’s Weak

In another installation of the dramatic series of exchanges between the U.S. and Iran, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Iran is making threats on the Strait of Hormuz because the country is in a position of weakness, The Hill reported.

“It’s the latest round of Iranian threats and it’s confirmation that Tehran is under increasing pressure for its continued failure to live up to its international obligations,” Carney said at a press briefing on Tuesday. “Iran is isolated and seeking to divert attention from its domestic problems.”

According to the news outlet, U.S. and Iranian officials have been launching proverbial volleys since Iran threatened last week to close the Strait of Hormuz. This waterway is a key passage into the Persian Gulf through which nearly 20 percent of the world’s oil supply travels.

Bloomberg reported that Iran’s closing of the Strait would cut demand for the largest tankers by blocking their busiest route. Erik Nikolai Stavseth, an Oslo-based analyst at Arctic Securities ASA, noted that the closing of the passage would lead to a drop in volumes and negative ton-miles for oil companies and their vessels.

State Panel Recommends Putting California High-Speed Rail Project On Hold

A state-appointed panel said Tuesday that California’s plan to build a high-speed rail system in the state is not financially feasible and needs to be placed on hold, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, the report from the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group noted that the state should not authorize the necessary $2.7 billion in bonds that would be used to build the initial section of the system.

The AP reported that in November, the California High-Speed Rail Authority approved a plan that requests $2.7 billion in state bonds to match the $3.5 billion that was granted by the Federal government. The funding would be used to build 130 miles of track between Chowchilla and Bakersfield.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Governor Jerry Brown has said he intends to ask the legislature this month to provide the funding, but the plan had been facing criticism even prior to the panel’s issuance of the report.

The panel cited a lack of clarity in the business plan that was unveiled in November as one of the reasons for their findings, according to the newspaper.

Lawsuit Alleges Maryland Not Doing Enough To Desegregate Schools

More than 50 years after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed segregation in public education, a court will decide if Maryland is providing enough support to the State’s historically black colleges and universities, The Wall Street Journal reported.

According to the newspaper, a lawsuit was brought against the State by a group largely made up of students and alumni from the schools and accuses Maryland of repeatedly failing to fulfill promises to help desegregate the institutions.

The Journal reported that the suit claims the State’s higher education commission devoted millions of dollars to “traditionally white institutions” and this alleged favorance has made it difficult for the black schools to recruit and retain the best students and faculty members.

“The state of Maryland has systematically failed to desegregate these four schools,” Jon Greenbaum, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, who are seeking in excess of $2 billion in funding for their schools, told the newspaper. “Elements that trace back to the 1930s and ’40s are still very a part of the state’s higher-education system.”

The Associated Press reported that opening statements begin on Tuesday in the bench trial that is expected to last six weeks.

White House And GOP Battle For Control Of Keystone Pipeline Project

President Barack Obama and Congress are starting the new year off locked in a tussle over the proposed 1,700-mile oil pipeline that would stretch from Canada to Texas, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, the White House will be forced to make a risky choice between supporting the environmental advocates who are against the pipeline and the labor unions who favor the Keystone project due to its potential to create thousands of jobs.

The AP reported that Obama was able to dodge the issue in November, as the “Keystone conundrum” decision was delayed by the State Department, which said it would wait until after the 2012 election and extra research was done on the project.

Leadership from the TransCanada company noted that they would do whatever it takes to get approval for the project.

“We’ve had more than enough surprises on this,” TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard told the news outlet.

The Hill reported that the State Department has said the Obama Administration will have no choice but to reject the project due to the expedited timeline that has been pushed by Republicans, as the agency noted this would not leave enough time for review.

Gold Prices Rally To Start 2012

After posting gains for the 11th straight year in 2011, gold experienced gains as the commodity markets ushered in the new year with good news for precious metal buyers.

Reuters reported that the price of gold rose by a significant margin as investors started off the new year with a renewed interest in riskier assets such as commodities.

According to the news source, better-than-expected manufacturing data from China fuelled interests among investors who had abstained from trading at the end of 2011 because of year-end credit conservatism. A weaker U.S. dollar also helped to fuel growth in the precious metals market.

“Everyone is a bit more optimistic at the beginning of the year,” Ong Yi Ling, an analyst at Phillip Futures, told Reuters of the positive start for commodities. The metals expert noted that gold may reach levels near the record high posted in 2011, but it may not be until the end of the year.

The price of gold for February delivery rose $25.20 to $1,592.00 an ounce on the New York Mercantile Exchange, marking an increase of 1.61 percent for the commodity, according to CNN.

Book Claims Petraeus Almost Quit After Afghan Drawdown

Four-star General turned CIA Director David Petraeus almost resigned as Afghanistan war commander over President Barack Obama’s decision to draw down surge forces, according to a new book about the career of the Army veteran.

The Associated Press reported that the book, All In: The Education of General David Petraeus, traces the career of the former General, from his days at West Point to his command of both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

According to the news outlet, which received an advance copy of the book, Petraeus decided that resigning would be a “selfish, grandstanding move with huge political ramifications” and that now was “time to salute and carry on.”

The AP reported that the book describes Petraeus’ frustration at still being labeled an outsider from the Obama Administration, even though he retired from the military at the request of the President before taking the job as the CIA’s 20th director.

Massachusetts Senate Race Leads To Big Spending

Outside groups on both sides of the Massachusetts Senate race are spending millions of dollars to endorse their choice and attack the opposing candidate, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, the race between Elizabeth Warren and Senator Scott Brown has gained national attention, as the seat that was held for nearly 50 years by Edward M. Kennedy is open in 2012.

The AP reported that the race in Massachusetts may foreshadow what the national election will be like, as special interest groups and Super PACs will likely play a significant role.

“Massachusetts is at the end of the spear of what will be the big trend and the big story of 2012,” Ken Goldstein, president of Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks spending on political ads, told the news outlet.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the Massachusetts race is representative of the two sides of the political spectrum, as Warren has offered her support for the Occupy Wall Street protests while Brown is campaigning on traditional Republican themes of smaller government and lower taxes.

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.