Senate, House Negotiators Agree On Defense Bill

Senate and House negotiators struck a deal that gives the military first crack at holding suspected al-Qaida terrorists who are caught in the U.S., setting up a showdown with President Barack Obama who had said he may veto the bill, The Washington Times reported.

According to the newspaper, the negotiators – the top Democrat and Republican on the House and Senate Armed Services committees – noted that they weren’t intending to change exisiting law enforcement, but felt strongly that terrorists caught plotting against the U.S. should be held by the military.

This would also apply to individuals who are caught on U.S. soil, according to The Associated Press. The leaders of the committees reached an agreement on this matter, and they pushed the bill to the White House, hoping that Obama would rescind his threat of a veto.

Obama had said that he would veto the bill if he thought it constrained his authority.

The AP reported that the bill would authorize $662 billion for military personnel, weapons systems, national security programs in the Energy Department and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama, al-Maliki To Plan Next Moves For U.S., Iraq

As the end of the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq approaches, President Barack Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will meet in Washington to discuss the next phase of the relationship between the two nations, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, the withdrawal of the last American troops on Dec. 31 marks the end of a nearly nine-year conflict that has been deeply divisive in Iraq and the U.S. Though the two leaders have pledged to maintain ties, the future of the relationship remains unclear.

The AP reported that the end of the war marks a promise that was kept by Obama, as he has eagerly promoted this removal of U.S. troops.

Taking the soldiers out of Iraq has been seen as a troublesome move by some military experts, however, due to the threat that Iran poses in the region and the strained relations between Obama and al-Maliki.

“Maliki has always been a very troublesome ally,” Toby Dodge, an expert on Iraq from the London School of Economics, told The Washington Post. “America has never managed to get him to do what they want him to do, and they never managed to run him.”

Bolton: Iran May Have Acquired Jamming Technology

Although American officials have continued to insist that neither weaponry nor technology brought down a U.S. drone over Iran, a former U.S. ambassador said if reports are true that Russia provided jamming equipment to the country, the situation becomes much worse, according to Fox News.

“Some reports have said Russia sold (Iran) a very sophisticated jamming system a short time ago,” former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton told the news source. “Now, our military says that is not true, it came down because of a malfunction. I certainly hope that’s right because if the Russians have provided Iran with sophisticated jamming equipment it means a lot else is at risk too.”

Bolton noted that Congress should be concerned if Iran is in possession of jamming technology that can bring down planes, missiles and communications and guidance systems “for a whole range of our weapon systems.”

According to World Net Daily, reports have indicated that Chinese and Russian military officials have requested to send experts to Iran to inspect the U.S. drone that crashed down in the country last week.

Supreme Court May Take Look At State Immigration Laws

The President Barack Obama Administration is in the middle of a legal battle against a patchwork of State laws that target illegal immigrants, and now the Supreme Court will enter the ring, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, Arizona is asking the high court to let the State begin enforcing measures that have been blocked by lower courts at the request of the administration. Among the provisions is one that requires police, while enforcing other laws, to question the immigration status of an individual if he is suspected of being in the country illegally.

The AP reported that officials from the Justice Department said that regulating immigration is the job of the Federal government, not the States.

Although the Federal government sued Utah last month due to immigration legislation, several other States have voiced their displeasure with the way that Washington is handling the immigration issue, The Charleston Post and Courier reported.

“If the Feds were doing their job, we wouldn’t have had to address illegal immigration reform at the state level,” a spokesman for South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley told the newspaper.

Family Doctors Don’t Help Patients Dodge Diabetes

Though family doctors should help patients take steps to prevent diabetes, they’re failing to help them avoid this crippling disease. The risk factors are well-known, but a study at Queen Mary, University of London, shows that family doctors aren’t paying sufficient attention to their patients who are at risk. The doctors aren’t offering the preventive medical advice these patients need.

Authors of the study examined 145 factors that are associated with type 2 diabetes. They discovered that there were seven risk scores — such as being overweight or having a family history of the disorder — that physicians could use to predict whether a patient may develop the condition.

The researchers noted that about half of these factors were modifiable through diet, exercise or medication. Additionally, they said that diabetes prevention efforts are the best way to halt the rate of the blood sugar disorder, considering that there is currently no cure.

“If we stop people from developing diabetes in the first place we will prevent a great deal of ill health, save money, reduce use of [healthcare] resources and, crucially, save lives,” said lead researcher Douglas Noble.

Risk factors that appeared to predict the onset of diabetes most accurately included old age, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and family history. Effective weight loss plans have been shown to be a way of preventing type 2 diabetes.

Senate Rejects Payroll Tax Cut Plan

Senate Rejects Payroll Tax Cut PlanThe Senate rejected Democratic and Republican plans for extending the Social Security payroll tax cuts as the two parties continued to fight over a cornerstone of President Barack Obama's plan for revitalizing the economy, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, due to the fact that the Senate failed to renew the payroll tax reduction, the issue moves to the House of Representatives.

"I do not expect Congress to go home unless the payroll tax cut is extended and unless unemployment insurance is extended," Obama said in a statement. "It would be wrong for families, but it would also be wrong for the economy as a whole."

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) noted that he felt confident in the ability of lawmakers to move ahead after GOP leaders previewed legislation that would extend the cuts and unemployment benefits, according to the AP.

The Washington Times reported the bill that failed to pass in the Senate would have cut the payroll tax in half for 2012 and replaced that money in Social Security trust funds by imposing a surtax on individuals who have million-dollar incomes. 

House Votes To Give Lawmakers More Power Over Regulations

The House of Representatives voted to give Congress greater power to reject or approve Federal rules that the GOP has deemed “job-killers,” The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, the 241-184 vote sends the bill to the Senate, where the Democratic majority is unlikely to place it on the schedule. This legislation would represent a major shift in power from agency officials in the executive branch that were not elected to members of Congress.

The AP reported that Democrats have argued that this bill would give Republicans the authority to jeopardize rules that cover healthcare, the environment, defective products, workplace-and-food safety and other “protections.”

The bill would apply to regulations that have an estimated economic impact of more than $100 million, according to the news outlet.

“Small-business owners have identified regulations as their No. 1 problem in this rough economy, but the administration refuses to allow any checks on its regulatory power,” a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told USA Today.

The news outlet reported that President Barack Obama and the White House have threatened to veto this bill if the proposed legislation reaches the executive branch.

Senate Rejects Payroll Tax Cut Plan

The Senate rejected Democratic and Republican plans for extending the Social Security payroll tax cuts as the two parties continued to fight over a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s plan for revitalizing the economy, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, due to the fact that the Senate failed to renew the payroll tax reduction, the issue moves to the House of Representatives.

“I do not expect Congress to go home unless the payroll tax cut is extended and unless unemployment insurance is extended,” Obama said in a statement. “It would be wrong for families, but it would also be wrong for the economy as a whole.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) noted that he felt confident in the ability of lawmakers to move ahead after GOP leaders previewed legislation that would extend the cuts and unemployment benefits, according to the AP.

The Washington Times reported the bill that failed to pass in the Senate would have cut the payroll tax in half for 2012 and replaced that money in Social Security trust funds by imposing a surtax on individuals who have million-dollar incomes.

Air Force Dumped More Soldiers’ Remains In Landfill Than Acknowledged

The Air Force dumped the incinerated partial remains of at least 274 American troops in a Virginia landfill, a number much higher than the military had originally acknowledged, records show, The Washington Post reported.

According to the newspaper, the landfill dumping was concealed from families who had given the military permission to dispose of the remains in a “dignified and respectful manner,” officials from the Air Force said. They went on to note that there are no plans to alert those families now.

The Post reported that Air Force and Pentagon officials said last month that determining the true number would require significant effort, due to the more than 6,300 troops whose remains have passed through the mortuary since 2001.

“It would require a massive effort and time to recall records and research individually,” the Pentagon’s acting undersecretary for personnel, wrote in a letter to Representative Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.).

MSNBC reported that changes in the disposal policies only came about after an in-depth review at the site was ordered in 2008 by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

U.S. Military A Growing Target For Terrorists, Lawmakers Note

There is an increasing amount of evidence that homegrown terrorists view military bases and personnel as high-value targets, lawmakers said prior to a joint session of the House and Senate Homeland Security Committees, Fox News reported.

“People in uniform are symbols of the United States. They’re symbols of America{‘s} power, symbols of America{‘s} might,” Representative Peter King (R-N.Y.), told the news outlet. “And if they (military personnel) can be killed, then that is a great propaganda victory for al-Qaida.”

According to Fox News, King noted that there is evidence that extremists have joined the armed forces. He spoke to the alleged threat from individuals who have enlisted in the military that may be “radical jihadists.”

Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, agreed with King, as he noted that soldiers and perhaps their families would be vulnerable to these extremists.

Lieberman cited the attack, allegedly by U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, that killed 13 soldiers and civilians at Fort Hood, Texas, as one of the examples of what could happen, CNN reported.

Drone Recovered In Iran Was Joint Military-CIA Plane

The U.S. drone that fell into Iran’s hands was part of a joint military-CIA reconnaissance operation, Fox News reported.

According to the news outlet, a senior U.S. official confirmed that the spy plane was being used as part of a joint operation along the Afghanistan-Iran border when it suddenly lost connectivity and disappeared.

There have been reports from the Iranian government that the plane was flying over their airspace when it went down, but the International Security Assistance Force claimed that the drone was above Afghanistan when its operators lost control, ABC News reported.

Fox News reported that despite the differences between what the two sides are saying, the drone, dubbed “The Beast of Kandahar”, was a significant find for the Iranian government.

“This is a big prize in terms of technology,” a senior U.S. military source told the news outlet.

According to Fox News, the spy plane uses the same technology as the drone that was used to monitor Osama Bin Laden’s compound, and is presumed to be intact due to its programmed move to find a landing place once control is lost.

Obama Identifies Wealth Gap As Defining Issue For America

President Barack Obama told a group of people gathered at a high school in Kansas that the growing gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S. was “the defining issue of our time,” The Washington Times reported.

“This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, and all those who are fighting to get into the middle class,” Obama said at a high school in Osawatomie. “At stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home and secure their retirement.”

According to the newspaper, the President pressed for action from Congress regarding the payroll-tax cuts, as part of his $447 billion jobs package. He then launched into the idea of more government regulation and the institution of higher taxes for the wealthy.

The Times reported that Obama then blamed the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the rising deficits and attacked the notion of a complete free-market economy.

The President spoke just days after a report was released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that showed the income inequality between the poor and rich had grown in the U.S., according to The Wall Street Journal.

Connecticut Governor Eyes ‘Possible Fraud’ In Post-Hurricane Aid Program

A number of Connecticut residents, including workers for the State, may have requested and received Federal emergency money to replace spoiled food and cover other expenses following Hurricane Irene, despite the fact that their incomes disqualified them, State officials said, according to The Associated Press.

Governor Dannel P. Malloy said that he ordered an investigation into what he dubbed “multiple incidents of possible fraud” in the emergency aid allocations that were intended for low-income people, according to the news outlet.

This aid was distributed through the State Department of Social Services after the storm. Malloy didn’t provided specific evidence or estimate the amount of money that went to undeserving individuals, but noted early reviews found examples among State workers of conduct “that, if fully substantiated, could result in dismissal or even prosecution.”

“The idea that someone would use the occurrence of a devastating storm as an opportunity to defraud a public program is an outrage,” Malloy said in a statement. “The fact that some of this potential fraud may have been perpetrated by state employees makes this situation that much more offensive.”

According to the New Haven Register, Malloy directed his anti-fraud staff to conduct systematic reviews of the applications for aid by public employees and citizens.

McCain: U.S. Aid To Pakistan Must Come With Strings Attached

Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) said that the billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Pakistan must come with conditions, as he suggested oversight for funding for the Asian country following the recent developments in the region, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, McCain is the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which helps to provide oversight for the money to Pakistan, and he noted that the country should show it is working to “prevent the needless deaths of young Americans.”

The comments from the Senator came as frustration is growing in Congress, due to the alleged connections between Pakistan’s intelligence outfit and anti-American insurgents, the AP reported.

According to the news outlet, the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan has become more strained since NATO airstrikes allegedly killed 24 Pakistani troops located on the Afghanistan border.

Pakistan’s Federal Finance Minister Dr. Abdul Hafeez Shaikh said that there has been no change in U.S. economic assistance, but noted that the country needs to limit foreign help to become more sustainable.

“We want to increase trade and investment with the world which is the only sustainable way to economic progress,” the minister said, reported The Express Tribune.

American Refineries Helping Make U.S. Net Exporter Of Fuel

The sluggish gas sales at home have forced American refineries to ship gasoline, diesel and other petroleum products elsewhere, helping to make the U.S. a net exporter of fuel, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Though this data showed that the U.S. is exporting more resources, it also points to the effect that the recession has had on American citizens. The newspaper reported that this shipping of fuel elsewhere has led to higher domestic prices for gasoline.

“Instead of that product backing up and depressing prices, it’s being sent to other countries,” Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, told the Chronicle. “It’s good news for the refining industries and their workers and the balance of trade and U.S. jobs.”

Fox News reported that data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration indicated the U.S. sent more than 753 million barrels of gasoline abroad, while more than 689.4 million barrels were used domestically.

According to the news outlet, the last time this type of disparity existed was in 1949, when the country was still recovering from World War II.

Medicare Data For Doctors To Be Made Public

The government announced that Medicare will finally allow its extensive claims database to be accessed by employers, insurance companies and consumer groups, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, this will allow these groups to produce report cards and supply the public with information on local doctors and hospitals. A more transparent system could ease the process of deciding which specialist to use for an important medical procedure.

“There is tremendous variation in how well doctors do, and most of us as patients don’t know that. We make our choices blind,” David Lansky, president of the Pacific Business Group on Health, told the AP. “This is the beginning of a process to give us the information to make informed decisions.”

The news outlet reported that the Medicare administration also supported this move, calling the new policy “a giant step forward in making our healthcare system more transparent and promoting increased competition, accountability, quality and lower costs.”

This new policy was announced as The New York Times reported that the official in charge of Medicare and Medicaid for the last 17 months said that 20 percent to 30 percent of health spending is “waste.”

Medical Marijuana Legalization Resulted In Fewer Traffic Deaths

One of the arguments against the legalization of marijuana as an alternative medicine has been that it may make the roads less safe because officers can’t test whether a driver is on the drug as readily as they can detect alcohol use.

As a result, researchers at Montana State University and the University of Colorado compiled traffic data from 13 States both before and after the legalization of medical cannabis. They found that deaths stemming from car accidents actually decreased by nearly 9 percent between 1990 and 2009.

“Traffic fatalities are an important outcome from a policy perspective because they represent the leading cause of death among Americans ages five to 34,” said co-author Daniel Rees.

Additionally, medical marijuana use appears to have curbed alcohol use, as the team found that beer sales decreased by 5 percent in the States following the legalization of the herb.

Authors of the study noted that in the three States that legalized medical marijuana in the mid 2000s, there was an increase in use of the drug among adults but no rise in abuse by minors was observed.

Postal Watchdog Notes Subsidy For Alaska Costs Millions

A program that began almost 40 years ago as a way to get necessary goods to remote Alaskan communities may be delivering significant profits to airlines and private merchants, a postal watchdog reported, according to The Washington Times.

The newspaper reported that this program — which allowed companies to bypass the Federal mail service by using private carriers at the postal rates given for the USPS — has cost the U.S. Postal Service tens of millions of dollars, an amount that is a big hit to the government organization.

The Postal Service’s Office of the Inspector General issued a white paper calling for major reforms to this program, citing that they have had losses of more than $70 million in the last year and need to change their structure.

“Rural merchants seem to be among the biggest beneficiaries of the Alaska program,” the report stated. “Since these stores have little or no competition, they have little incentive to pass along the significant transportation savings they enjoy.”

The Juneau Empire reported that a Federal official is recommending the State use the Alaska Permanent Fund to pay for some of the costs of living for the affected citizens instead of relying on the Treasury.

Rhode Island And Washington Governors Want Reclassification For Marijuana

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire and Rhode Island Governor Loomis Chafee have filed a petition with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that asks the Federal agency to reclassify marijuana, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, the two Governors have asked for this reclassification so that doctors will be able to prescribe marijuana to patients and so that pharmacists are able to fill the prescription.

Reuters reported that the DEA received to the petition from the two Governors and would review it. The agency also noted that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) previously reviewed a similar document and rejected it.

The HHS had evaluated the similar petition on scientific and medical grounds and “determined that marijuana has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the U.S. and lacks accepted safety protocols for use under medical supervision,” according to the news source.

Reuters reported that the petition came weeks after Federal authorities had raided State-sanctioned medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington.

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.