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.

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.”