President Obama is requesting $60.4 billion in disaster relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy, but it has morphed into a huge Christmas stocking of goodies for federal agencies and even the state of Alaska.
“The pork-barrel feast includes more than $8 million to buy cars and equipment for the Homeland Security and Justice departments. It also includes a whopping $150 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to dole out to fisheries in Alaska and $2 million for the Smithsonian Institution to repair museum roofs in DC. An eye-popping $13 billion would go to “mitigation” projects to prepare for future storms. Other big-ticket items in the bill include $207 million for the VA Manhattan Medical Center; $41 million to fix up eight military bases along the storm’s path, including Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; $4 million for repairs at Kennedy Space Center in Florida; $3.3 million for the Plum Island Animal Disease Center and $1.1 million to repair national cemeteries.”
Budget watchdogs have dubbed the 94-page emergency-spending bill “Sandy Scam.”
Matt Mayer of the Heritage Foundation slammed the request as an “enormous Christmas gift worth of stuff,” saying “The funding here should be focused on helping the community and the people, not replacing federal assets or federal items.”
Republican lawmakers say the lack of details and justifications for the spending will delay approval until after Christmas, while they analyze and document what spending is “appropriate.”
Some of these things don’t have anything to do with helping Sandy victims, yet they’re all part of Sandy relief package. How is giving $150 million to fisheries in Alaska supposed to help someone in New York who lost his home? How is spending money to fix up Gitmo going to help a business in New York whose building got destroyed by the hurricane? Or spending millions to help repair damages at the space center in Florida?
If you’re opposed to disaster relief funding, then that means you want disaster victims to continue to suffer as much as possible. Conservative representatives in Congress would only vote against such legislation because they’re cold and heartless individuals. This is generally what liberals and big government Republicans think of those who are not in favor of the federal government giving handouts to storm victims.
It’s been shown time and time again that conservatives are actually more generous with their money than liberals are. Liberals prefer having their money taken through taxes to fund government programs that only make people poorer and more dependent on government. Conservatives give more of their money away to charitable organizations that actually do help people in need.
This is why conservatives are opposed to this kind of legislation. Would it end up helping some people and businesses in New York? Perhaps, but at the expense of the taxpayer. But now, it’s little more than a mini-bailout for politicians’ buddies. And if you’re opposed to it, that means you want children to suffer and be homeless.
This is just one more example of why the Constitution needs to be amended to state that NO amendment can be added to legislation that is not directly related to the original bill (IMHO)!
Governments meeting in Dubai to discuss the future of global Internet regulation reportedly butted heads last week as some countries called for more government control, while U.S. officials warned that overregulation in cyberspace posed threats to freedom.
At a U.N. conference that will end later this week, officials from Russia, China and some Arab states have argued that governments need greater control over Internet content. But a U.S. delegation to the conference, which includes representatives from tech giants like Google and Microsoft, says that countries that already use heavy Internet controls would abuse the power.
Members at the conference have already agreed to work on implementing Internet standards that would essentially allow global eavesdropping. International Telecommunications Union (ITU) officials said they would adopt a proposal from Chinese officials that would allow telecom companies across the world to more easily dig through data passed across the Web.
Part of the proposal would allow governments to use a process called deep packet inspection, which has been used by repressive regimes, many of which are members of the ITU, to conduct surveillance against their own citizens.
“The telecommunications standards arm of the U.N. has quietly endorsed the standardization of technologies that could give governments and companies the ability to sift through all of an Internet user’s traffic – including emails, banking transactions, and voice calls – without adequate privacy safeguards. The move suggests that some governments hope for a world where even encrypted communications may not be safe from prying eyes,” the Center For Democracy and Technology said of the measures in a recent blog post.
The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, a large US Navy aircraft carrier that holds fighter bomber squadrons and 8,000 men on board, has appeared off Syrian coast yesterday amid arising speculations that the US is ready to attack Syria though there was no official announcement so far.
The multipurpose nuclear attack carrier leading the naval assault group which has arrived in the eastern Mediterranean in close proximity to the coast of Syria.
The “Ike” joined the amphibious assault helicopter carrier Iwo Jima, which has been in the area for almost two weeks.
In all there are now 17 American warships off the Syrian coast.
Media have already put forward suggestions that if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad decides to use chemical weapons against the opposition, the US will intervene the country militarily “within days”.
According to Jerusalem-based website DEBKAfile, the US has already near Syria at its disposal 10,000 fighting men, 17 warships, 70 fighter-bombers, 10 destroyers and frigates.
“The muscle is already there to be flexed,” a US official told the London Times about the US military’s presence outside of Syria.
“It’s premature to say what could happen if a decision is made to intervene. That hasn’t taken shape, we’ve not reached that kind of decision. There are a lot of options, but it [military action] could be launched rapidly, within days.”
A National Security Administration whistle-blower said in a recent interview that the U.S. government collects massive troves of data about American citizens, which it could use against anyone it chooses.
William Binney, one of the best mathematicians and code breakers in the history of the National Security Agency, said that the Federal government uses a powerful data collection tool to store the contents of virtually every email sent by anyone in the Nation.
“[T]he FBI has access to the data collected, which is basically the e-mails of virtually everybody in the country. And the FBI has access to it. All the congressional members are on the surveillance too, no one is excluded. They are all included. So, yes, this can happen to anyone. If they become a target for whatever reason — they are targeted by the government, the government can go in, or the FBI, or other agencies of the government, they can go into their database, pull all that data collected on them over the years, and we analyze it all. So, we have to actively analyze everything they’ve done for the last 10 years at least.”
Binney said the government is collecting the information in bulk without any regard to whether the individuals whose information is being stored is subject to criminal investigation at this time or is considered a threat to national security. According to the former NSA agent, the data is collected with a powerful information technology device called Naris which is capable of collecting all information being sent over fiber optic cables in the United States. The information is then stored in vast data collection centers where it can be searched later by Federal agents.
This sort of vast data snooping by the Federal government was first brought to light when it was discovered that the NSA was working with AT&T to monitor customer phone and Internet activity via a secret office at the company’s headquarters.
Binney says government surveillance of data over fiber optic networks has increased since the first lawsuit was filed against AT&T for allowing Fed snoops to mine its data networks. He claims that under the Administration of Barack Obama the government has even had to build larger facilities to store all of the data it is collecting from Americans’ inboxes.
“They are doing more. He is supporting the building of the Buffdale facility, which is over two billion dollars they are spending on storage room for data. That means that they are collecting a lot more now and need more storage for it,” he said. “That facility by my calculations that I submitted to the court for the electronic frontiers foundation against NSA would hold on the order of 5 zettabytes of data. Just that current storage capacity is being advertised on the web that you can buy. And that’s not talking about what they have in the near future.”
Over 3,000 US troops have secretly returned to Iraq via Kuwait for missions pertaining to the recent developments in Syria and northern Iraq, Press TV reports.
According to our correspondent, the US troops have secretly entered Iraq in multiple stages and are mostly stationed at Balad military garrison in Salahuddin province and al-Asad air base in al-Anbar province.
Reports say the troops include US Army officers and almost 17,000 more are set to secretly return to Iraq via the same route.
All US troops left Iraq by the end of 2011, after nine years of occupation, as required by a 2008 bilateral security agreement between the two countries. The troops left Iraq for the neighboring Kuwait.
Washington decided to pull out all its troops from Iraq after Baghdad refused to grant legal immunity to the remaining US soldiers.
Washington claims that the only US military presence left in Iraq now is 157 soldiers responsible for training at the US Embassy, as well as a small contingent of marines protecting the diplomatic mission.
Everyone seems fixated on this belief that it actually mattered who won the election for President of the United States…and whether either of the two guys running were going to ‘fix’ everything.
The fact is, it doesn’t matter who won. Not one bit. And I’ll show you mathematically:
When the US federal government spends money, expenses are officially categorized in three different ways.
Discretionary spending includes nearly everything we think of related to government– the US military, Air Force One, the Department of Homeland Security, TSA agents, etc.
Mandatory spending includes entitlements like Medicare, Social Security, VA benefits, etc. which are REQUIRED by law to be paid.
The final category is interest on the debt. It is non-negotiable.
Mandatory spending and debt interest go out the door automatically.It’s like having your mortgage payment auto-drafted from your bank account– Congress doesn’t even see the money, it’s automatically deducted.
With the rise of baby boomer entitlements and steady increase in overall debt levels, mandatory spending and interest payments have exploded in recent years. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office predicted in 2010 that the US government’s TOTAL revenue would be exceeded by mandatory spending and interest expense within 15-years.
That’s a scary thought. Exceptit happened the very next year!
In Fiscal Year 2011, the federal government collected $2.303 trillion in tax revenue. Interest on the debt that year totaled $454.4 billion, and mandatory spending totaled $2,025 billion. In sum, mandatory spending plus debt interest totaled $2.479 trillion… exceeding total revenue by $176.4 billion.
For Fiscal Year 2012 which just recently ended, that shortfall increased 43% to $251.8 billion.
In other words, they could cut the entirety of the Federal Government’s discretionary budget– no more military, SEC, FBI, EPA, TSA, DHS, IRS, etc.– and they would still be in the hole by a quarter of a trillion dollars.
Raising taxes won’t help. Since the end of World War II, tax receipts in the US have averaged 17.7% of GDP in a very tight range. The low has been 14.4% of GDP, and the high has been 20.6% of GDP.
During that period, however, tax rates have been all over the board. Individual rates have ranged from 10% to 91%. Corporate rates from 15% to 53%. Gift taxes, estate taxes, etc. have all varied. And yet, total tax revenue has stayed nearly constant at 17.7% of GDP.
It doesn’t matter how much they increase tax rates– they won’t collect any more money.
GDP growth prospects are tepid at best. Facing so many headwinds like quickening inflation, an enormous debt load, and debilitating regulatory burdens, the US economy is barely keeping pace with population growth.
The only thing registering any meaningful growth in the US is the national debt. It took over 200 years for the US government to accumulate its first trillion dollars in debt. It took just 286 days to accumulate the most recent trillion (from $15 trillion to $16 trillion).
In October of this year alone, the first full month of Fiscal Year 2013, the US government accumulated nearly $200 billion in new debt– 20% of the way to a fresh trillion in just 31 days.
Not to mention, the numbers will only continue to get worse. 10,000 people each day begin receiving mandatory entitlements. Fewer people remain behind to pay into the system. The debt keeps rising, and interest payments will continue rising.
Curiously, a series of polls taken by ABC News/Washington Post and NBC News/Wall Street Journal show that while 80% of Americans are concerned about the debt, roughly the same amount (78%) oppose cutbacks to mandatory entitlements like Medicare.
Bottom line, the US government is legally bound to spend more money on mandatory entitlements and interest than it can raise in tax revenue. It won’t make a difference how high they raise taxes, or even if they cut everything else that remains in government as we know it.
This is not a political problem, it’s a mathematical one. Facts are facts, no matter how uncomfortable they may be. The election was merely a choice of who is going to captain the sinking Titanic.
The rise of political Islam following the Arab Spring has many worried that the democratic achievements of the revolution could be lost. In Egypt and Tunisia alike, citizens are once again taking to the streets. But this time they are opposing Islamism.
There are no signs that tensions will ease in Egypt, and it is difficult to predict the outcome of the current power struggle.
Egypt’s Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, who gave himself dictatorial special powers, seems unimpressed by the storm he has unleashed among secular Egyptians. In rushed proceedings, he also held a vote on a new constitution, in which the Constituent Assembly, dominated by Islamists, clearly voted in favor of Sharia law. Morsi has given the army temporary power to arrest civilians to help secure the constitutional referendum seen by the Muslim Brotherhood as a triumph for democracy. Its liberal foes view the proposed constitution as a religious straitjacket and will not accept this, because they are determined to stop the Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi.
President Morsi, bruised by the political uproar in which protesters have besieged his graffiti-besmirched palace to demand his downfall, has rescinded a November 22nd decree giving him wide powers, but has not budged on the referendum date.
A decree issued by Morsi late on Sunday means the armed forces can arrest civilians and refer them to prosecutors until the results of the referendum are announced.
Despite its limited nature, the edict will revive memories of Hosni Mubarak’s emergency law, also introduced as a temporary expedient, under which military or state security courts tried thousands of political dissidents and Islamist militants.
This says a lot about the most important country in the Arab world, which is only at the beginning of its democratization. It also says a lot about the emotional state of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which came to power as a result of a revolution that it had only halfheartedly supported. The Islamist movement has decades of experience in dealing with authoritarian rulers, but it knows nothing about freedom.
It wants to demonstrate strength, especially in Egypt, the country where it was founded, because it knows that a fierce struggle is underway over the role of political Islam, especially in the Arab countries that drove out their dictators only recently: Tunisia, Libya and Yemen. In Syria, where the war is still raging, the question remains as to whether the secular state will be jeopardized if more radical forces within the opposition prevail.
Two years after the beginning of unrest in North Africa and the Middle East, the Islamists seem to have emerged as the clear winners. Many are now claiming that the Arab Spring has been followed by an Islamist winter.
In 2011, the world was euphoric over the fight for freedom being waged by protestors in Tahrir Square. But a shadow fell over the revolution when Libyan militias put the bloodied corpse of former dictator Moammar Gadhafi on display. And the daily bloodshed in Syria comes as a terrible climax to a development that has spun out of control.
The Arab world has once again become a greater source of worry than hope to the Western world. Islamists are winning elections and putting together governments, and even ultraconservative Salafists, shady characters who promise to eliminate democracy as soon as they can, are suddenly playing a role. They also want to take away the freedoms Arab women have achieved, ban bikinis on tourist beaches and turn the administration of justice over to Islamic scholars. Is the revolution over? Not quite.
The struggle for the Arab soul hasn’t been decided yet. Wherever movements backed by political Islam begin to gain strength, they encounter broad resistance.
Shortly after the collapse of the Gadhafi regime, in the summer of 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt felt that the moment had come to export radical imams to neighboring Libya. They established a branch of the Brotherhood in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, as well as a book publishing company and a television station. They prepared for the first free parliamentary elections in the country, ran a morally charged campaign, but then lost handily to the liberal “National Forces Alliance.”
“The Libyans are already good Muslims. They don’t understand what more Islam is supposed to be good for,” says Abdurrahman Sewehli, a member of the Libyan parliament, commenting on the defeat of the Muslim Brotherhood. “They are interested in rebuilding the country, and in development, schools and infrastructure.”
Libya has a religiously homogeneous society, with Sunni Muslims making up almost 100 percent of the population. The dividing lines in Libya run primarily between clans. The disputes in the desert nation are not about the true practice of Islam, but about tribal interests and the distribution of oil revenues.
And it isn’t the only country that is bristling against the deliberate immigration of radical groups.
Even before the beginning of the year, the two most important tribal federations in Yemen, the Bakil and the Hashid, had severed all contact with jihadist cells in the country. Yemeni tribal warriors and extremists occasionally cooperated, but it was hardly for ideological reasons. Instead, their interests coincided over money, smuggling and the arms trade. But then the jihadists offended the tribes when they violated their traditions. The American drone war against the al-Qaida cells in the country also made it more difficult for the tribal groups to cooperate with the extremists.
Yemeni society is clannish and deeply traditional. Both Islam and Islamism are firmly established in the country. To secure his power, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in office from 1990 until he stepped down this February, made a pact with the Islamist Islah Party, and for years he promoted the radical imam and friend of al-Qaida Abdul Majeed al-Zindani. Today liberal ideas are much more widespread in the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula than in Saleh’s time. Nevertheless, and this is one of the contradictions in archaic Yemen, no politician would even think of questioning Sharia law, which is in effect in the country.
The political diametric opposite of Yemen is Tunisia, the most secular country in the Arab world. This didn’t change after Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali took office in late 2011. His Ennahda Party, a branch of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, had repeatedly assured Tunisians that it did not intend to introduce Islamic law or curtail the rights of women. Tunisia’s Islamists have distanced themselves from that position since summer, and yet they are still behaving more reasonably than their counterparts in other countries in the region, as they observe from a safe distance the game President Morsi is currently playing in Egypt.
And what happens to Syria if the regime falls? The demise of the government in Damascus seemed yet another step closer last week, when rebels, allegedly for the first time, shot down two army helicopters with surface-to-air missiles. The incident suggests that the regime of President Bashar Assad, whose air force had long given him military superiority, is now seriously threatened. Until now, the United States and other Western countries had vehemently refused to provide the opposition with weapons of the kind used to down the helicopters.
No one knows exactly how many foreign jihadists currently support the rebellion in Syria, but they do exist.
When the governor of Homs Province and fighters with rebel militias tied to the Free Syrian Army sought to reach an agreement last week, foreign fighters frustrated the effort at rapprochement, reports a military observer.
“The extremists, who are loosely associated with al-Qaida, have their own agenda,” says an intelligence agent. “They don’t want a ceasefire; they want to exterminate the Baath regime and establish an Islamist state.”
If Syria sees a transition process similar to what took place in Tunisia and Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood will likely be among the first groups to position themselves in Damascus.