Gold Prices Shoot Upward On Positive Economic News

The price of gold increased on Friday as investors purchased the metal along with other assets associated with risk, encouraged by positive employment data from the U.S. and a concerted effort by euro zone policymakers, Reuters reported.

According to the news outlet, news of positive economic data from the U.S. boosted risk appetite, along with widespread investor expectation that a European summit next week may finally create a concrete solution to the euro zone debt crisis.

“Gold used to be working as a fear indicator but at the moment it’s trading more or less like a risk asset,” Eugen Weinberg, an analyst for Commerzbank, told Reuters. “Risk is on because of the better employment data and the expectations for the E.U. summit are very high.”

MarketWatch reported that gold futures gained nearly 1 percent on the speculation that a more fiscally responsible union could emerge in Europe and may result in more central bank stimulus.

According to the news outlet, the price of gold increased $16.50 to $1,756.60 an ounce, marking a rise of 0.9 percent for the metal.

U.S. Military Puts Iraqis In Control Of Camp Victory

The U.S. military announced that it has handed over Camp Victory, a sprawling base on the outskirts of Baghdad that used to be the headquarters for the troops, to the Iraqi government, Fox News reported.

“The base is no longer under U.S. control and is under the full authority of the government of Iraq,” Colonel Barry Johnson, spokesman for the U.S. military, told The Associated Press.

According to the news outlet, this was where U.S. generals plotted the course of the military action, tracked the mounting death toll and swore in new American citizens. The base was home to 46,000 people, but the transition over to the Iraqi government showed the urgency with which the withdrawal of forces is occurring.

The AP reported that the Iraqi government has not yet announced plans for the complex, which was prime real estate, especially for a country lacking in public spaces and parks. There has been talk of the new leadership turning Saddam Hussein’s jail cell into a museum.

Unemployment Rate Drops To 8.6 Percent In November

The U.S. unemployment rate fell for the month of November, marking the lowest level that this number has reached in more than two-and-a-half years, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, the Labor Department announced that the rate dropped to 8.6 percent last month, a 0.4 percent decrease for the unemployment numbers from the month of October.

The rate hasn’t been this low since March 2009, but there are still 13.3 million Americans that remain without work. The AP reported that a key reason the rate dropped by such a sharp margin was that 315,000 people had given up looking for work and were no longer counted as unemployed.

Fox News reported House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said that although any positive economic news is a good thing in Washington, there is still much to be done.

“During the holidays, it’s always comforting to see an uptick in seasonal hiring, but far too many people still remain out of work and the economy still faces systemic problems,” Cantor said in a statement.

Fannie Mae And Freddie Mac Spend More Than $640,000 On Conference

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac spent more than $640,000 this fall to send 100 employees to a mortgage-industry conference in Chicago, a decision that they have defended, The Wall Street Journal reported.

According to the newspaper, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees the two mortgage companies, outlined the costs in a letter to Representative Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas).

Neugebauer had sought details on the conference, and found the spending habits for the two agencies to be "lavish."

The Federal housing regulator "has special responsibility to make sure that Fannie and Freddie are run responsibly and in a way that minimizes taxpayer losses," Neugebauer said after receiving the letter from the agency.

According to the Journal, the spending included up to $342,000 for travel, food, hotel and meeting-room space and $74,000 on four dinners for mortgage-lending companies.

The Associated Press reported that the Fitch ratings agency will likely lower its outlook for debts linked to the government. This number includes the deficits of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
 

Watchdog Group Claims Ohio Failed To Look After Stimulus Money

The Ohio Inspector General claimed that the State failed to properly administer a $266 million stimulus grant directed towards making the homes of low-income families more energy efficient, Fox News reported.

According to the news outlet, the Federal program, known as the Weatherization Assistance Program, awarded money to States to help “weatherize” homes in low-income areas. In Ohio, this funding was distributed by the State Department of Development via more than 30 grants to local groups who then hired contractors.

However, the Inspector General’s investigation found “wrongful acts and omissions were committed” by the administrators of the program, as the department did not conduct adequate inspections to check the overall quality of the work, Fox News reported.

“There was a systemic failure to provide the required oversight … to assure the money was being spent effectively and appropriately,” the Office of the Inspector General said in a statement.

The Associated Press reported that Development Department spokeswoman Katie Sabatino said the legislative body is currently reviewing the report and is looking forward to working with the Inspector General to fix the problems.

Toomey: GOP Will Attempt Reshaping Automatic Spending Cuts

Supercommittee member Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said that the Republican Party will seek to “change the configuration” of the automatic spending cuts that resulted from the failure of the committee on ABC’s This Week With Christiane Amanpour, according to The Hill.

“I think it’s important that we change the configuration [of the cuts]. I think there’s a broad consensus that too much of the cuts are weighted on [our national defense],” Toomey said during the televised interview.

CNN reported that Toomey wanted to change the formula for making the $1.2 trillion in budget cuts, which were mandated under legislation that was passed in August. The Senator opposed how the cuts had to be evenly divided between domestic spending and national defense.

According to the news outlet, the forced spending cuts, taking place under a process called sequestration, were intended to act as a painful consequence for both parties if they failed to come up with a compromise over reducing the deficit.

Toomey argued that the cuts would be weighted toward Democrats.

“Let’s face it, there are a lot of Democrats whose lifelong ambition has been to cut defense spending,” the Senator said on Townhall Radio.

Bankrupt Wireless Firm Keeps Federal Claims Confidential

A wireless company that had filed for bankruptcy secured a court order to keep an investigation into whether it had “viable claims” against the Federal government under wraps, The Washington Times reported.

According to the newspaper, the order came as the wireless company Open Range Communications told customers to find other Internet providers. The business had won a $267 million loan guarantee in 2008 from the government.

Despite the loan, the company issued a statement that noted “Open Range has discontinued operations. Please seek another Internet service provider NOW.”

According to the Times, Open Range received the Federal money as part of a plan to provide broadband service to 500 rural communities in 17 states.

The company received $78 million out of the Federal allotment prior to filing for bankruptcy. At the time that they collapsed they had paid back only $4.5 million of the loan money.

Fox News 6 WBRC reported that much of the loan came as a part of the 2008 stimulus package, specifically from the Department of Agriculture.

Labor Relations Vote Could Be Held Up By Lone Republican

The National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) vote to move forward on a contentious union election rule could end up resting on the shoulders of the lone Republican member, The Hill reported.

Brian Hayes, the lone Republican, threatened to resign or withhold his participation after the NLRB began to push forward on the rule. His vocal denial of the vote and possible lack of attendance has led many to question whether the organization has the power to move forward with the proposed regulation, according to the news outlet.

The Hill reported that the union election proposal has sparked an outcry from business groups, which argue that it would leave companies little time to give notice to their workers about a possible move to unionization.

Former NLRB officials have both supported and denounced Hayes’ decision, but Peter Schaumber, a former chairman, noted that his participation would be necessary if the board was to move forward.

“It is not unusual for a member to withhold a vote until a written majority decision circulates, to see the words and the reasoning,” Schaumber said in a statement.

Fox News reported that many Republicans have denounced the recent actions of the NLRB, as several leaders have seen the labor board as a vehicle for passing pro-union decisions for the White House.

Defense Secretary Commutes Home On Taxpayer Dollars

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta commutes home to Monterey, Calif., nearly every weekend on a government jet and reimburses just a small percentage of the cost to American taxpayers, The Washington Times reported.

Since becoming the Defense Secretary in July, Panetta has flown home 14 times as of last week. Despite the public knowledge of this commuting, he has no plans to change his travel arrangements.

“The White House understood when Mr. Panetta took the job that he would return to Monterey to visit his family, as he did when he was director of the CIA,” a senior administration official said in a statement. “That’s where his family lives, after all.”

According to the newspaper, the cross-country commuting was first reported in September, but is drawing second looks due to a call by President Barack Obama for Cabinet agencies to make cuts.

The Hill reported that Panetta has recently spoken out about the potential cuts to the Defense budget and the Pentagon, saying that slicing funding would be devastating for the department.

The New Hampshire vs. Nevada Relay Race

The big deal over the New Hampshire primary election and Nevada caucuses would be laughable if it weren’t so sad. Does anyone care about how the Framers of the Constitution designed for the President of the United States to be selected? We are so far gone that it is doubtful that we can even have an intelligent conversation with anyone in the media, elected officials, those running for office, political science professors, Constitutional law professors, Tea Party leaders or any of the electorate to discuss what the Framers of the U.S. Constitution had in mind.

The Framers designed an ingenious system which was not based on party politics, campaigning, campaign promises, State primary elections leapfrogging each other, party national conventions, billion-dollar beauty pageants or even direct election by the people. It was a multistep, indirect method, using independent-thinking electors in the first step of the process.

The President was not the “King of the People” or the “King of the Party,” but the President of the United States.

The function of the Presidential electors was to identify (nominate) the best possible Presidential individuals (statesmen) based on their merit and service to their country, their States or their local governments (past performance, not campaign promises or self-aggrandizing). The elector’s job was to name (nominate) two outstanding individuals each (not campaign for one or promise his vote to one or to a party). The elector’s assigned task was to take place at the beginning of the selection process, not as a rubber-stamp procedure after a multiyear, multimillion-dollar campaign circus across the Nation.

After the official signed, certified and sealed nominations were tallied in a joint session of Congress, the five highest-ranking individuals (who were then candidates) would be voted on by the States in the House of Representatives. Each State had one vote and requiring a majority of the States to determine a final choice. (Talk about New Hampshire and Nevada having clout then! Their votes would be equal with California, New York, Texas, Florida, etc.) Talk about States’ rights and State sovereignty!

The secret is that Constitutionally, the State Legislatures could take back control of the Presidential election process again now, if they wanted to do so. But because the members of the State Legislatures also get into office by party politics, it would be political suicide to try to take back the process from the parties.

Early on, Constitutional government was destroyed by party politics. The first pillar to fall was the executive branch. The ratification of the 12th Amendment institutionalized party usurpation, the games they were already playing.

An in-depth analysis of the original Electoral College system can be found in the concise volume “The Evolution and Destruction of the Original Electoral College.” The Framers created a far superior system for placing statesmen, not politicians, in the White House.  That system has been ignored for more than two centuries.

Education is the first step to enlightening the hearts and minds of the people to understand the purposes and benefits of the structure of government that the Framers designed. However, we will probably have to be beaten up a lot more before we are willing to give up our political party or give up our supposed “right” to democracy (popular vote) before we will be willing to restore the complex Constitutional representative republic that the Framers established — a system that promoted freedom and prosperity practically overnight. The formula for freedom is found in the structure of the original U.S. Constitution.

–Carolyn Alder

Labor Department Allows Ex-Solyndra Employees To Apply For Aid

Hundreds of workers who were laid off by bankrupt solar firm Solyndra are eligible for Federal aid, according to a ruling from the Labor Department, Fox News reported.

According to the news outlet, the ex-employees, who worked for a company that received $528 million from the Federal government, would have potential benefits that fall under a program known as “trade adjustment assistance.”

Fox News reported these benefits are backed by taxpayers and are designed to help workers who lost their jobs due to a shift in production overseas.

“Customer and aggregate United States imports of articles like or directly competitive with the cylindrical solar panel systems by Solyndra LLC have increased,” the Department of Labor said in a statement, adding that this foreign competition “contributed importantly” to the termination of these employees.

The move from the Labor Department came as an initial deadline passed for any satisfactory bids to buy the entire company and restart production. This dampened the hopes that the 1,000 idled workers may be rehired, and has led officials from the business to consider auctioning off equipment, Reuters reported.

White House Says No Bailout For Europe

The White House said that U.S. taxpayers should not be responsible for helping stabilize Europe’s economy, despite President Barack Obama hosting European Union leaders for a summit, The Washington Times reported.

However, Obama noted that the U.S. economy is linked to the European situation and the fate of the euro may have an impact on Americans due to the trade implications, according to the newspaper.

“This is of huge importance to our own economy,” Obama said after the summit. “If Europe is contracting or if Europe is having difficulties, then it’s much more difficult for us to create good jobs here at home because we send so many of our products and services to Europe.”

Though the President noted the importance of sustaining Europe, a spokesman for the White House said that the U.S. would only offer advice and consultation rather than financial help, according to the Times.

The Associated Press reported that European leaders are getting desperate in their quest to find a solution to the financial crisis, and are racing to find a grand bargain to prevent the total collapse of the euro.

Gold Prices Rise Against A Weaker Dollar

The price of gold began to rise when markets opened today, as the value of the metal increased against the dollar due to hopes that Europe will make some progress on its debt debacle, The Street reported.

According to the news outlet, the price of gold for December delivery, the most actively traded contract, rose $4.70 to $1,715.50 an ounce.

This increase in price continued the metal’s climb skywards, as gold experienced a “monster rally” at the beginning of the week. It rose 1.5 percent because of strong stock data coming out of the U.S., possibly influenced by Black Friday sales.

“Further pockets of bargain hunting and safe-haven related buying will help support the gold in the coming sessions,” James Moore, research analyst at FastMarkets.com, told The Street. “But as a whole we expect the recent trend of mixed volatile trade to continue with the metals vulnerable to further bouts of cash generating related long liquidation.”

Reuters reported that the price of gold has risen by more than 20 percent in 2011 to date, putting the metal well on its way toward the 11th consecutive yearly gain for the commodity.

Medicare ‘As We Know It’ May Be Over

Even prior to the failure of the supercommittee to find a formula for reforming entitlement programs, Democratic lawmakers rejected efforts by Republicans to save Medicare by offering competition, Fox News reported.

“Put simply, it ends Medicare as we know it,” President Barack Obama said earlier in the year.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also rejected the ideas put forth by Republicans, as he employed the same “end Medicare as we know it” ideology prior to saying that it would subject senior citizens to the increasing costs of healthcare, according to the news outlet.

“President Obama ended it as we know it,” James Capretta, a member of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told Fox News. “The one thing I don’t think the public really understands is that the healthcare law has already capped Medicare spending and President Obama was the proponent of that cap.”

According to POLITICO, Democrats have Medicare reform ideas still in play, but the squabbling of the two parties has put everything on the chopping block. The idea of that party as the “protectors of the big three entitlements” has been challenged by stances on the deficit.

Illegal Immigrants Cause Of Fires In Southwest, Report Says

A report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted that illegal immigrants started up to 40 percent of human-caused wildfires along the border of Mexico and Arizona between 2006 and 2010, The Washington Times reported.

According to the newspaper, the number may even be understated, as the GAO report said Federal land agencies often violate their own rules by not investigating the origin of the fires.

“According to agency officials, the presence of illegal border-crossers has increased concerns about firefighter safety and, in some instances, has required firefighters to change or limit the tactics they use in suppressing fires,” said the report. “For example, the presence of illegal border crossers has limited firefighting activities at night and complicated the use of aerial firefighting methods.”

The Times reported that both the biggest human-caused fire and the most expensive one in the area were ignited by illegal immigrants.

Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) had previously blamed the fires on illegal immigrants, but was accused of “scapegoating” these individuals. He noted that this situation shed light on how people engage in partisan character attacks instead of addressing the problem, according to the Los Angeles Times.

U.S. Attempts To Ease Tension With Pakistan, Views Differ On Next Steps

The U.S. has made several attempts to repair relations with Pakistan following an event that left 24 soldiers from the Asian country dead, but some American officials have suggested a tougher approach, Fox News reported.

“We have had soft diplomacy with them for a long time, giving them aid with no conditions whatsoever. We’ve got to stop that,” retired Gen. Jack Keane told the news outlet. “And that’s the reality of that — maintain the relationship and change the conditions of that relationship so that when we provide them support there’s conditions that go along with that, and we want certain things back for that.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have already offered their condolences to Pakistan over the incident, which resulted from an alleged NATO drone firing on the troops, according to Fox News.

The Associated Press reported that Pakistan has alleged that their military commanders pleaded with coalition forces to halt the airstrikes, which lasted up to two hours.

General Notes Al-Qaida Could Step Up Operations In Iraq If U.S. Troops Leave

The top American general in Iraq said Monday that al-Qaida and other groups of insurgents may look to increase their operations in the country following the departure of U.S. troops, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, General Lloyd Austin also noted that while he expected turbulence, he did not forsee the situation in the country completely disintegrating. He pointed to the U.S. departure from Iraqi cities in 2009 as an example of what may be expected.

“As we leave, you can expect to see some turbulence in security initially, and that’s because you’ll see various elements try to increase their freedom of movement and freedom of action. Al-Qaida will be one of those elements,” Austin said in a press conference.

The Washington Post reported that Austin also spoke to the potential for Shiite militias that are backed by Iran to assert their capabilities in Iraq following the removal of U.S. troops. The general also noted that “there will probably be unfinished business for many, many years to come.”

Nebraska County To Print Election Materials In English Only

Dodge County, Neb., will not print its election materials in Spanish despite having a 10 percent Hispanic population, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, County Clerk Fred Mytty told supervisors that bilingual ballots are required only if a minority population within a district exceeds 5 percent and has a low literacy rate.

He noted that the schools in the area have done a good job of raising the literacy rate so that it is above the national average.

“Apparently we’ve done a good job of educating the Hispanic population in Dodge County. … I think that’s what saved us,” Mytty told the AP. “Dodge County does not meet the standard, so for 10 more years (until the 2020 Census) we don’t have to worry about the bilingual ballot.”

According to 2010 U.S. Census data, the total Hispanic population for the State of Nebraska was 9.2 percent, which is much lower than the national average of 16.3 percent.

Deficit Supercommittee Fails To Reach Deal

The bipartisan deficit supercommittee announced late Monday that it had failed to reach a deal that would cut the nation's debt, as the Congressionally imposed deadline passed before both sides could come together, The Washington Times reported.

According to the newspaper, the panel met on and off for two months after its inception in September, but failed to reach an agreement over the size and composition of tax increases and spending cuts.

"After months of hard work and intense deliberations, we have come to the conclusion today that it will not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement available to the public before the committee’s deadline," committee co-chairmen Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Representative Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) said in a statement.

Both parties are looking to the next possible steps that will be taken, and a loose coalition of 140 lawmakers from both chambers have pushed for a $4 trillion debt reduction, the Times reported.

According to Fox News, President Barack Obama has responded to the failure of the supercommittee by addressing Congress about a potential extension of the payroll tax cut. 

U.S. Spies Captured And Held In Lebanon

The CIA’s operations in Lebanon have been badly damaged following Hezbollah identifying and capturing a number of U.S. spies recently, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, the intelligence debacle is especially disconcerting due to the fact that the CIA reportedly saw it coming. Hezbollah’s longtime leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, boasted on television in June that at least two operatives who had infiltrated the ranks of the terrorist organization had been rooted out.

ABC News reported that authorities fear the spies, who were paid informants recruited by the CIA, will be executed or that they have already been killed.

“If they were genuine spies, spying against Hezbollah, I don’t think we’ll ever see them again,” Robert Baer, a former senior CIA officer, told the news outlet. “These guys are very, very vicious and unforgiving.”

Baer, who worked against Hezbollah while stationed in Beirut in the 1980s, noted that the group was known for its ruthless actions against any dissent, especially when individuals were suspected of or caught spying, according to ABC.

Federal Debt Rises Above $15 Trillion Mark

The Treasury Department announced that the Federal debt has reached record levels, as the number passed the $15 trillion mark after a precipitous decade-long increase, The Washington Times reported.

According to the newspaper, the number rose by $56 billion from November 14 to November 15, showing the type of quick additions that have pushed the total to such a high point. The Federal debt has increased $4.40 trillion since President Barack Obama took office.

“Today marks an infamous day in American history,” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a statement.

The announcement of the debt eclipsing this level was made a day before Congress was poised to pass a bill potentially continuing the high rate of spending and as a special committee held talks about ways to slow the rise in deficits, according to the Times.

ABC News reported that the U.S. will spend $1.3 trillion more than it will take in for the year. At the current rate, the debt may top $23 trillion in 2015, though the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected it would be $17.6 trillion.

Questions Raised Over Proposal To Let IRS Prepare Tax Returns

The focus in Washington over deficit reduction strategies has led to talks about a previous proposal that would allow the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to go ahead and prepare tax returns for Americans, Fox News reported.

According to the news outlet, the idea was initially pitched earlier in the year by a Democratic Congressman who saw it as a way for some filers to save time and money by allowing the IRS to do the majority of tax-return preparation.

The proposed idea has been knocked by Republicans and advocacy groups who warn that it is a ploy to let the IRS charge filers more money in taxes. Critics are confident that it will not be included in the deficit-reduction plan, Fox News reported.

“Allowing the IRS to file your tax return is like asking the fox to guard the hen house,” Representative Sam Johnson (R-Texas) said previously, as he introduced a bill over the summer that would prohibit the Treasury Department from implementing the system.

RedState reported that Representative Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) introduced the “Simple Return Act” earlier in the year, as he noted it would “get the IRS to do your taxes for you.”

Coburn Exposes War On Government Accountability Office

Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) released a report “Shooting the Messenger: Congress Targets the Taxpayers’ Watchdog” that outlined how the House was cutting resources to its own investigative agency, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), according to a release from his office.

“Just this year GAO identified hundreds of billions of dollars of duplicative and overlapping programs that, if addressed by Congress, could both save money and improve services for taxpayers,” the Senator said in his report. “For every $1 spent on GAO, the agency provides $90 in savings recommendations.”

Coburn went on to note that in difficult economic times it is imperative that agencies like the GAO be examined thoroughly and aren’t stricken with significant budget cuts.

“If the mission of GAO is compromised by excessive cuts, where else can Congress turn to find unbiased data to improve programs and save money?” Coburn asked in his report.

The Washington Post reported Coburn’s office alleged that while the Federal budget increased 100 percent between 1992 and 2007, the GAO budget was cut by more than 20 percent.